Despite the fact that the United States history has serious experience gained from the American Civil War till the famous speech of Martin Luther King, our society is still harmed by presence of destructive ideas of social inequality and division not by the social position or character, but by ethnicity and therefore skin color. This problem is one of the most painful for the contemporary American nation as it is the boundary on the way to social progress and development. It divides our society and creates imaginary warfare and the set of senseless conflicts.
For sure, it has found its place in works of well-known artists and in the books of writers that created the image of the époque. “The Blacker the Berry” was first published in 1929 and therefore it discusses the issues of asocial complexity of hierarchy that was faced by the Black community within the United States in the first part of the 20th century. Although the book seems to be talking about the problems that are outdated and no more topical, the protagonist and the plot do not show any irrelevance.
The book tells the story of life of a girl, Emma Lou Morgan that is “too black” and therefore “there was no place in the world for a girl as black as she” (Thurman 29). The girl grows up in the small town Boise in Idaho in the family of the fair-skinned people and her only desire is to become whiter. She becomes a real outsider not only in among her peers, but first of all in her family, being a member of the African American community that hopes to get whiter from generation to generation.
Her mothers’ marriage to the pure Negro results in the dark-skinned child that is regarded by the family members as the hopeless person that will not find the place in the contemporary society. Her only support is her uncle that motivates Emma to enter university in California to get to the big city where there is no such discrimination and where people are free from the old subjective prejudices.
Her first real loss of hopes and beliefs is when she finds herself even lonelier in California than she used to be in her home town. The book perfectly presents the problem that existed in the society at that time. Emma was not only separated from the university groups and unions, but she could not even communicate with people on a primitive even in her everyday life. The existing racism together with gender hierarchy creates the social environment that does not accept a girl with black skin, such as Emma.
The lack of attention paid to this problem at that period of time resulted in the series of conflicts within the American society, mass protests and social movements that aimed to stop the discrimination of African American people that was present in all spheres of social life that were not connected individual’s appearance or ethnicity in any aspects.
Being unlucky to escape social ignorance and discrimination in Los Angeles, Emma moves to Harlem. The individual that is not accepted within the society of white-colored people tries to get into completely another society – the community of people with dark skin – to become a common member of the unity and to escape the image of rara avis. The protagonist belies that this city will be free from all racial stereotypes and prejudices as it is the biggest colored city in the country. However, despite the fact that it was really miscellaneous and diverse in its citizens, Harlem failed to solve all Emma’s problems.
The themes of racial diversification in the contemporary period has gained the new wave of interest and therefore this book with its symbolic denaturalization of race, gender and even sexuality is observed in the new light. It is possible to see that Harlem here is a symbol of emancipation. This is one of the key themes that go through the whole novel and it has a special interest in the dimension of passing the color line. The specific interrelations and connection among space, race and gender represents the problem of African American women on a new scale.
Harlem is not only regarded as the emancipatory tool, but as the place that Emma is seeking for during all her life – the place she belongs to. The constant feel of being an outsider is nearly a fixed idea that is following the protagonist though the whole novel and Harlem is related like the potential solution to this issue. Therefore, the desire to move to Harlem is the symbol of her constant search for her own place in the world.
Therefore, Emma goes to Harlem in order to feel comfortable and to have a place she dreamt of in her past – the place where is will feel comfortable, protected, safe and happy. This desire is typical not only for Emma – it is a dream of all people in the world. However, it is extremely interesting to study how a common desire gets specific features under pressure of social discrimination, such as racism.
Thurmans’ usage of place city construction and atmosphere in order to describe the ideal place for Emma, the only place where she feels comfortable, shows the functioning of the place when connected with such issues as gender and race. It gives new colors and characteristics to the city, as it plays here extremely specific role. It is not a geographical position – it is a dream of a girl that has to come true.
Emma’s desired happiness and strive for self-realization meet the new boundaries I absolutely another social environment. Despite the fact the Harlem does give a girl with dark skin the ability to realize all her potential, it fails to be the special place she dreamt off. Harlem loses its image of the so-called “Mecca” for African American people, although it produced the impression of the real center of urban space from black people of that time. The city is still taking into account the traditional gender and race norms that exists in the other cities, even though they have a different appearance in this heterogeneous space.
The novel represents the main problem of protagonist as her feeling of displacement within the middle class of African American society. The main reason for that is the “fast black” skin color. She is not only disregarded by her tutors and peers – even her relatives consider her as potentially hopeless social member. During the plot development, text of the novel indirectly underlines the specific and unexpected outcomes that can be emerged because of individual’s displacement, such as rebellious re-appropriation of the desire of place for self. The pressure caused by social prejudices against people with the different skin color and racism that was present in the American society played supportive role for the emergence of these problems in protagonists’ life.
The surprising development of the problem of displacement adds new colors to the image of the big city. Emma’s’ constant desire to solve the problem of her displacement is the main motivation that pushes her to escape to Harlem. However, this is a huge center that is considered to be the place of additional social pressure and high demands than a place to abscond to.
The overestimated expectations of the young girl that have been met by the pessimistic reality raise the important theme of “knowing” one’s place that enlarges the problem of personal displacement. The ruining of stereotypes that Emma had created inside her mind is a serious examination of her strength. However, this makes her ready for the new calls of working in the big city and gives her ability to realize her potential and improve her skills.
The specific character of Emma Lou is not as popular as the other African American protagonists of Harlem Renaissance authors. However, she is maybe the only one that has received extra-marital sexual experience that resulted in additional crisis of self-acceptance. Moreover, Emma, with the lack of natural talent, have made a successful career in the public school that gave her financial independence – an important social freedom for the African American woman in the beginning of the 20th century. Despite the fact that she did not receive all the social freedoms and privileges of the ordinary member of the society, Emma became much more independent as she overcomes the series of social boundaries.
This demonstrates the real power of her personality and the numerous advantages of her hardened character that resulted in the development of her career and social position. Even though she has not fully enjoyed the life of the big city, her real success is in not giving up under the pressure of the city and the ability to survive in this heterogeneous urban space center.
Another success of the girl is that she did not return to the ordinary life of the African American middle class, although this life style was familiar to her from the childhood and all her family members preferred to stay in the small town and to be a part of the community. She understood all the imperfections of such a life and found more safety and comfort in the big city center.
The amount of the population and its ethnic structure made Harlem extremely different from all the other American cities. The strong desire to escape the racism that did not give Emma the ability to live a common life of the United States citizen made this city extremely attractive. Al to of young people that felt the same as she did tried to build their career in Harlem. But the real reason of her success lies in the fact that Emma tried to did something really important and complex, as her place in life, not only in the society.
The constant feeling of displacement that emerged under pressure of discrimination of people with dark skin was a serious factor that changed the life views, values and priorities of the huge number of people within the country.
A lot of young African Americans tried to find their place in life, their Mecca. A lot of such people were unlucky as the real reason of their displacement lied not in their location, education or character, but in the attitude of the social environment towards their appearance. This boundary was impossible to ruin from the inside because it was created by the outside factors.
Thurman, Wallace. The Blacker the Berry. NY: Simon & Schuster Inc., 1996. Print.