Thursday, 3 May 2012

The Harlem Renaissance and The Lottery

The Harlem Renaissance and The Lottery created history by showing the vulnerability of human towards Prejudice, Double Standards and Influential behavior. One is a great revolution and another revolutionary story. Both have created a niche for itself and have laid the foundation of thought process as to how we can evolve as a better person, so as to make the world a better place to live.

The Harlem Renaissance
After the end of the American Civil War in 1865, an era of improved education and employment for the Black American was foreseen. This created the first black middle class in America, and its members began expecting the same lifestyle as afforded by White Americans. But in 1896, the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court case declared racial segregation to be constitutionally acceptable thus giving a crushing blow for racial equality. Northern part of the United States was less affected than the Southern states, where by adults were given right to vote, better educational facility and greater job opportunities. Due to this seven million African – Americans migrated to the Northern State.

Harlem, downtown near New York City known as the Mecca of Black was once dominated by the European Immigrants in the late nineteenth century. During the World War I, migration of labor from Europe literally ceased, resulting in huge demand for unskilled labor. As the influx of African –Americans from the Southern state continued, places like Chicago, Philadelphia, Cleveland, New York City saw dramatic change in the work culture.

During the early 1900s, the burgeoning African-American middle class began pushing a new political agenda that advocated racial equality. The epicenter of this movement was in New York, where three of the largest civil rights groups established their headquarters. These groups helped to establish a sense of community and empowerment for African-Americans not only in New York, but also around the country. In addition, they provided a rare opportunity for whites to collaborate with black intellectuals, social activists, educators, and artists in an attempt to transform a largely segregated and racist American society.

As the 1920s came to a close, so did white America’s infatuation with Harlem and the artistic and intellectual movements surrounding it. The advent of The Great Depression also hit the African-American segment of the population hard; layoffs and housing foreclosures shut many blacks out of the American Dream that previously seemed so close at hand. The increased economic tension of the Depression caused black leaders to shift their focus from arts and culture to the financial and social issues of the time. The strained relationship between the black community and the white in Harlem finally tore the two groups apart in 1935. That alienation was expressed in the Harlem Riot of 1935. The resulting violence finally shattered the notion of Harlem as the “Mecca” for African-Americans, and broke the fleeting truce between white and black Americas.

The Lottery
Shirley Jackson's, "The Lottery", published in 1948 brought much controversy and criticism. With a suggestion of an underlying evil, hypocrisy, and weakness of human kind, there is a constant struggle for the characters to make the ritual murder of a member of their town a familiar act.

The story takes place in a small village, where the people are close and tradition is paramount. A yearly event, called the lottery, is one in which one person in the town is randomly chosen, by a drawing, to be violently stoned by friends and family. The drawing has been around over seventy-seven years and is practiced by every member of the town. The lottery is an ideological mechanism which reinforces the village's hierarchical social order by instilling the villagers with an unconscious fear that if they resist this order they might be selected in the next lottery. This social order and ideology are essentially capitalist which is very well summarized by the fact that how the villagers react to not only the lottery, but also to the higher class in their village, Mr. Summers, Mr. Graves, and Mr. Martin. They are the most economically powerful within their society. The fact that these men run the lottery each year makes the villagers transfer the power they feel that the lottery has to the men who run it.

Mrs. Hutchinson, the protagonist shows a hint that she attempted to rebel and not show up to the event when she arrives late, with a nervous excuse of "forgetting what day it was". It is ironic that she, who almost stood up for her beliefs, is the one who wins the lottery, and is fated to be stoned. What is perhaps the most upsetting about Mrs. Hutchinson is her sudden unleashing of her true self. Before the drawing she is friendly with the other women, pretending to be pleased to be present. The very moment that she sees is her family that draws the black dot, though, her selfishness is evident. "You didn't give him time enough to take any paper he wanted. I saw you. It wasn't fair!” Then she turns to her own daughter. "There's Don and Eva," she yelled maliciously, "Make them take their chance!" She continues to scream about the unfairness of the ritual up until her stoning. Mrs. Hutchinson knew the lottery was wrong, but she never did anything about it. She pretends as much as she could to enjoy it, when she truly hated it all along. Perhaps it is implying that the more artificial and the more hypocritical one is, the more of a target they are. Mrs. Hutchinson was clearly the target of her fears.

Resemblance – The Harlem Renaissance and The Lottery
While the Harlem Renaissance was a historical movement, the lottery is a nostalgic ritual, the effects of both had on modern society were far from over because it draws upon hundreds of thousands of years of human involvement in sacrificial rituals and the belief that bloodshed will produce prosperous conditions for their people. The situation is relevant to our modern society as we tend to flock toward nasty gossip and are interested in spite of the privacy of the subjects involved. Whether it is standing on the side to watch a fight, an accident, or discussing the relationship, we seem to have no problem. We have no problem remarking on an individual’s adultery until it is ourselves that get caught. We have no problem stereotyping people until it is we who are stereotyped. It seems as though we sometimes condemn everyday truths that we know are characteristics of most people, including ourselves, and being afraid to admit them, place the spotlight on someone else. It is sad and definitely hypocritical, but it happens all the time.

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