The novel “Push” by Sapphire chronicles the life of a young African American teenage lost in a world fraught with desperation and abuse. The main character Claireece (better known as Precious) symbolizes a very stereotypical portrayal of life in the ghetto. Some feel that these stereotypes are too prevalent and are offensive to African American culture. However I feel that by analyzing these stereotypes we also gain a better perspective of issues that may face today’s inner city youth.
Instance of Stereotypes
There is no denying that many stereotypes persist within the text of “Push” Precious personifies many African American stereotypes by being overweight, on welfare, and living in the ghetto (Sapphire). She suffers from abusive parents and becomes a teen mother as a result of a rape (Sapphire). Precious’ child is born with Down syndrome and remains a challenge for Precious who can barely care for herself (Sapphire). The ghetto in which she lives is also stereotypical; full of gangs, drugs, and violence (Sapphire). Precious once states, "I hate crack addicts. They give the race a bad name."(Sapphire, pg.14) This is evidence that even she recognizes the stereotypes around her.
She lives with her mother, Mary, who is a stereotypical welfare abuser (Sapphire). She has done nothing of value with her life. She is a chronic abuser of Precious both physically and mentally (Sapphire). Precious’ mother represents everything that society dislikes about welfare recipients. Precious state, “My muver don't wantno white shit like Mrs Lichenstein social worker teacher ass nosing around here. My muver don’t want to get cut off, welfare that is.”(Sapphire, pg. 17) So with this said the question remains This book screams of stereotypes and racism, so why do so many readers embrace “Push” and finding meaning in its overt racial implications?
The Reasoning behind the Stereotypes
Despite the negative connotations typically associated with stereotypes, the truth remains that stereotypes do exist in real life I feel that the author of “Push” wishes to educate about cultural stereotypes not exploit them (Sapphire). The stereotypes depicted by Precious provoke emotion and allow the reader into her life. In this instance these stereotypes develop a character that is truly unique! Her struggles are similar to what many lower income children face. Her story is about her desire to thwart these stereotypes she has been born into and find her own sense of self-worth. It must be said that Precious’ life in not like all African Americans, and to say so would be racist. However, even if a small percentage of these stereotypes are true why should her story not be told?
Why We Should Embrace Precious
A degree of hostility exists within society for those we consider to be “less” than us. Whether it is an unwed teenage mother, a family on welfare or that person that lives on the wrong side of town, society tends to pass judgment and develop their own stereotypes. “Push” strives to break down these barriers by exposing a large number of readers to Precious’ inner city life. Precious’ character reminds us that no matter of race, class, or age we are all human with the same hopes and dreams.
Are there any truths to these Stereotypes?
Before one dismisses “Push” as pure racism, statistics do show that there are also many truths within this narrative. The US Census reports that nearly 43% of all single mother black families live in poverty ("US Census Bureau"). As for Precious’ obesity, it is also reported that 79% of African American women fall within the category of “obese” ("US Census Bureau"). There does not appear to be a connection between race and teenage pregnancy, however there does appear to be a connection to teen pregnancy and low income ("US Census Bureau"). Based on these statistics it would seem that the stereotypes in “Push” are not unfounded. Precious even seems to be with the majority. Precious’ story is unflattering, but offers a glimpse of real life without the “candy coating” often found in other novels. Perhaps it is the multitude of stereotypes that some readers object to, if Sapphire had used only a couple of stereotypes the novel might not have come off as so over the top. However I feel that Precious’ story would not have been told as effectively if this was the case. The shock that the readers feel after reading passages containing these stereotypes garner sympathy for Precious and explain the direness of her situation.
In conclusion, “Push” uses common stereotypes to build the character of Precious and provoke emotions, both good and bad. The harshness of Sapphire’s words matches the harsh realities of real life that Precious faces within the novel. Despite her circumstances, Precious reminds us that she is young woman who wants to escape her life, even if she is only able to do so through her dreams. Her dreams are a symbol of hope. Precious state, “don’t nobody want me, don’t nobody need me.” And by the end of the book, she’s able to say, ‘I saved myself. Am still saving myself” (Sapphire, pg. 118) Personally I feel that the stereotypes within this novel are justified and that the plight of Precious serves to remind us that everyone is indeed worthy.
. "African American Statistics." US Census Bureau. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Nov 2012.
Sapphire, . Push . 2009. Print.