Voices in the Mirror Critical Essays

Gordon Parks Sr.


(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Parks intended his autobiography to be an inspiration to young people in general and to young African Americans in particular. His message might be summarized as “there is hardly anything you cannot accomplish if you try hard enough.” He records the important incidents of his long, eventful lifetime as illustrations of the ways in which success can be achieved by a person who is motivated to succeed and not afraid of occasional failures.

One of the themes recurring throughout Parks’s autobiography is that of white racism. Every time he faced a new challenge in his life, he was met with reminders that African Americans could not expect the same opportunities as whites. Parks steadfastly refused to listen to words of discouragement and tried many things that African Americans had never tried before. He was the first African American to achieve success as a fashion photographer, the first African American photographer to work for Life, and the first African American to direct a feature film for Hollywood.

Parks knew many of the most prominent African American revolutionaries of the turbulent 1960’s, including Malcolm X and Eldridge Cleaver. He never, though, subscribed to doctrines of armed rebellion or separatism, because his life experiences had shown him that although the doors of opportunity might have been closed to African Americans, they certainly were not locked and bolted. He repeatedly states and illustrates that no race has a monopoly on bigotry or injustice. He found too much friendship and encouragement from members of other races to be able to believe that African Americans were faced with nothing but prejudice and hatred.

Parks regards himself as living proof of his message that bigotry is motivated by...

(The entire section is 724 words.)