Racism has been in existence in America since time immemorial. According to the history of America, racism existed since the time of the European colonization back in the 17th century. Some of the discriminated individuals as a result of their race included the Native Americans, African-Americans, Japanese-Americans, and the Jewish-Americans. It was a belief that their skin color and ethnic identity was inferior and that they were not part of the superior community. The portrayal of race has not only been done in the community, but also in the American texts. This essay will majorly discuss how American texts we have studied portray race. These texts include “The last of the Mohicans”, “The Pioneers” by James Fennimore Cooper, and “To Kill Mocking Bird” by Harper Lee, and Fredrick Douglas.
“The last of the Mohicans” by James Fenimore Cooper is an interesting novel that reflects the existing difficulties in overcoming racial discrimination. Cora, one of the main characters in the novel, is a woman who has mixed races who faces several challenges as a result of her state. The portrayal of Cora is a matter that still maintains its validity to date in terms of offering valuable insight into the challenges of the multiracial individuals. Cora’s heritage is disadvantageous to her since it causes her to judge herself differently with regard to her skin color, which is a visible characteristic. She feels that she is of less value as compared to her friends and family, and more particularly, Alice who is her sister.
Research reveals that during the ancient American days, the mono-racial humans were likely to live longer than them who came from mixed race (Fredrickson 112). Additionally, the people who were from mixed race were more likely to suffer from mental confusion or ailments (Crimmins & Saito 1631). In her book, Naomi states that “First of all one would come into the world in direct violation of Laws of Nature that kept animals within their own breeding purposes. Physically one would be something of a freak of nature”, (pp. 122-123). Seemingly, such beliefs were still in existence in the days of Cora hence made her feel like she was a “sinner” in the eyes of God as well as her beloved country.
Cora’s father, Munro, loves his daughter so much that he does not reveal her true identity to people. Later on, when he reveals it to Heyward, he is filled with pain and discomfiture. In his words, he states that;
“There it was my lot to form a connection with one who in time became my wife and the Mother of Cora. She was the daughter of a gentleman of those isles, by a lady whose misfortune it was, if you will” said the old man proudly, “to be descended, remotely, from that unfortunate class who are so basely enslaved to administer to the wants of a luxurious people.” (Cooper 187-188).
Heyward tries to remain reverential to Munro as his father-in-law and elder, but eventually ends up expressing his true feelings as he goes on to propose to Munro’s other daughter, Alice. He answers Alice question about Cora with a clear indication that racism was a real factor in the society. He states, “Your venerable father knew no difference between his children; but I — Alice you will not be offended when I say, that to me her worth was in a degree obscured….” (Cooper 308).
“The Pioneers”, the first novel by James Fenimore equally depicts the aspect of race throughout. In a conversation between Reverend Grant and his daughter, it is evident that racism is a strong element on the American soil. In his words, referring to Oliver Edwards, the Reverend says, ‘He is mixed with the blood of Indians, you have heard; and neither the refinements of education, nor the advantages of our excellent liturgy, have been able entirely to eradicate the evil.'(Cooper 143). In this case, the assumption in the words is that a person who is Indian is evil, and cannot be redeemed (Grossman 27).
In the history of America, it is evident that the Native Americans were driven out of America by the whites as part of the racism movement. Cooper describes them as a “feathered tribe”. In his words, he states that “So prodigious was the number of birds, that the scattering fire of the guns, with the hurling of missiles, and the cries of the boys, had no other effect than to break off small flocks from the immense masses that continued to dart along the valley, as if the whole of the feathered tribe were pouring through that one pass” (Cooper 345).
Race is also depicted in “To kill a Mocking bird by Harper Lee. The book explores human morality through a conversation about goodness and evil in people’s lives. According to Atticus, a father of two; Scout and Jem, people have both good and bad aspects. However, in his view, the good always prevails. He works hard to teach his children good values as well as defending Tom Robinson, a black man who was falsely accused of sexually assaulting a white woman. The book is set up in the town of Maycomb, in America’s southern part where racism is a huge challenge. In this town, people are forced to adopt a different social perspective; however, Atticus fights on believing that goodness will win and the evil of racism will vanish away. Racism openly arises when Tom Robinson is convicted of raping a white woman just because of his skin color; black. This causes great emotional pain to him realizing that racism and inequality are real in the society he lives in.
The theme of race is depicted in some of the conversations in this novel. For instance, Atticus goes on to offer a lesson to his son Scout about racism in the community they live in.
“Scout,” said Atticus, “nigger-lover is just one of those terms that don’t mean anything—like snot-nose. It’s hard to explain—ignorant, trashy people use it when they think somebody’s favoring Negroes over and above themselves. It’s slipped into usage with some people like ourselves, when they want a common, ugly term to label somebody.”
“You aren’t really a nigger-lover, then, are you?”
“I certainly am. I do my best to love everybody… I’m hard put, sometimes—baby, it’s never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn’t hurt you.” (Lee 107-109).
In conclusion, race forms part of the American texts we have studied in class. Apparently, the depiction of race in these texts is fueled by the fact that the writers had an experience or witnessed racism in their society. Additionally, the topic of race appears to be the talk during the 19th century, when they were writing the books. The authors of these texts have done an excellent work in bringing out the meaning of race in their work.
Crimmins, Eileen & Saito, Yasuhiko. Trends in healthy life expectancy in the United States, 1970–1990: gender, racial, and educational differences. Amsterdam: Elsevier Science Ltd, Volume 52, Issue 11, June 2001, pages 1629-1641.
Grossman, James. James Fenimore Cooper. New York: Stanford University Press, 1949. Print.
Cooper, James Fenimore. The Pioneers (1823). New York: Penguin Books, 1988.
Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mocking Bird. Woodstock: Dramatic Publishing, 1970. Print.
Cooper, James Fenimore. The Last of the Mohicans: A narrative of 1757. New York: G. P. Putnam, 1850. Print.
Fredrickson, George. Racism: A short history. NY: Princeton University Press, 2010. Print.