The American Dream In And The Earth Did Not Devour Him, The Autobiography Of An Ex Colored Man, And America Is In The Heart

1184 words - 5 pages

Millions of people of all nationalities came to America during the twentieth century with the hope of finding a new and better life for themselves. These immigrants were lured by the thought of obtaining the American Dream--"life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness" in the "land of opportunity." Unfortunately, few immigrants were actually successful in achieving the dream. Most were faced with hardship and discrimination, instead of the expected equality and freedom. The dire living conditions hampered their ability to pursue "happiness" and created what W.E.B. Dubois called "the veil," which refers to the fabric of racism that separates whites from other ethnicities and causes non-whites to see themselves under the distortion of a discriminative society. Thus, the idealized images of America were shattered by a grim reality. The harsh realities that these immigrants found are depicted in literary works such as The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, America is in the Heart, and ...And the Earth Did Not Devour Him. Through the protagonist of the novels, the authors convey the dispiriting side of the America that the immigrants unknowingly fell into.

In The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored, the author James Weldon Johnson, constructs an oppressive and judgmental image of America through the experiences of an unnamed man of mixed ethnic background. The main character remains nameless in an effort to represent the common man as well as to add to the issue of identity. As a mulatto, the ex-colored man struggles with the question of what he is. The book explores the differences between races and the difference in the way a person is treated depending on what color their skin is. Since the ex-colored man was not simply black or white, he could "pass" as being either. A defining moment in the book occurs in the classroom when the teacher tells all the white students to stand. When the ex-colored man proceeds to stand he is told to sit until the "others" are asked to stand. This scene shows the importance that is placed on classifying and separating within American society. He was oblivious to the concept of black and white until the segregation was forced upon him. From that moment on he was insecure about his identity; not knowing whether to claim himself as "white" or "black." Later, after witnessing a lynching of a black man he is conflicted with the shame that the black race would allow itself to be treated worse than animals and with the appalling idea that his country would allow a human being to be burned alive. Thus, he declares that he "would neither disclaim the black race nor claim the white race." He eventually decides to "pass" as a white man because it seemed like the more secure path. He is constantly insecure in his decisions and is always questioning the differences between the races. He feels trapped by the expectations placed upon each race. His struggles display the ridiculousness of classifying human...

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