People have an inherent fear of what they don't know or what is different. This is the underlying concept behind the prejudices encountered by the protagonists in all of the stories I have read. Ignorance leads to hateful views and actions. Discrimination occurs based on standards such as origin, race, and appearance.
Although it is clear that racism and various forms of hatred are rampant in society, the origins of such strong emotions are varied and unknown in many cases. Danger Zone offers a classic example of an inner city minority, Augustus LeMay, who grows very militant towards other races due to his economic status and lack of opportunity. Since everything around him is evidence of life's unfairness, his views become distorted and he becomes violent.
The primary theme of Danger Zone is how drastically racism changes everything for the worse. Augustus makes valid points to Jimmy in describing how inevitable his life is and the terrible life of all his friends and family is, trying to survive in the ghetto. There are no opportunities for his people, and yet a block away from his neighborhood is a wealthy white landowner building a mansion over hundreds of acres just for his family. Augustus feels that this shows how empathetic society is towards his people. Jimmy has never experienced anything like this or heard such views before but still feels Augustus's militant views against all whites must be wrong. In Europe, the racial tension turns a friendly basketball tournament into a political war. No one can concentrate on the game anymore. Politicians use the situation as opportunities for photos and great speeches on policy which will bring them votes. The team cannot even sleep because they fear being killed just for who they are. Augustus at first simply hates all white people and blames them for everything concerning his people, but he changes at the end. Because Jimmy takes a bullet for him, he realizes there is something more to him. Jimmy always wanted to shake his hand and be his friend but he always refused him. In the end his views lighten up and he is more practical. He knows whites aren't to blame for everything that has gone wrong.
The politicians in Danger Zone demonstrate the ubiquity of racism today. The wealthy and educated are not immune to such ideas. They use a possible crisis in which young lives are at stake to boost their own reputations with the public. Racism is found on all levels of the corporate world and in the political world as well, as Jonathan Atwood discovers in Skinhead. Leaders in society not only propagate such ignorance by discriminating in hiring and other areas, but also exploit these views for their own benefit in many instances. Politicians use people's ignorance to earn votes and businessmen use it to sell products -- without anyone's knowledge.
Skinhead not only shows that powerful executives, such as Peter Atwood, Jonathan's grandfather, have distorted views often times, but also exposes the terrors of the Skinheads in the country today in order to reveal the general ignorance that exists in many average Americans in society. While in captivity, Jonathan is exposed for the first time to the ridiculous views of the racist Skinheads, who fear anything that is different. Carl tells him that all Blacks, Jews, Hispanics, and Asians are not rightfully in this country, stealing money that belongs to the pure whites. This theme of ignorance and hatred of the unknown, is very common, but more subtle, yet significant concepts presented in the book are those which show why many people may resort to these grotesque views. Jonathan concludes that Carl's hatred of non-Whites began when his father was in an accident and a Jewish doctor was unable to save his life. Mitch was actually a compassionate person, whose brother was going to be a public defender for minorities before he was killed by cancer. Carl found him in a vulnerable state and molded his views into hateful ones easily. This is how many impressionable people in the country are turned into hateful monsters today. Propaganda from groups such as the Skinheads reaches people who also want someone to blame for their problems, and this is why these hate groups continue to thrive. Many of these people who hate others could be easily changed if they listened to some logic. Jonathan noted this in Mitch, who seemed to have a warm side as well. He longed to talk to Mitch without a gun in his face, so he could reform him.
Another theme intertwined with the message of anti-prejudice in the book, is that of communication -- between families in particular. Loss of communication is a major problem in families and in society in general, and it creates a perfect environment for hateful messages to spread rapidly. At the conclusion of the book, it is learned that Detective Ward's son was himself a Skinhead, providing valuable information about his father's work to the Skinheads. Ward had told Jonathan earlier that he sometimes felt he did not know his own son, and was hurt to discover why later. Jonathan had his own traumatic experience in learning that his own father had been banished by his racist grandfather. His mother had fallen into a state of depression because of the banishment of her husband. Peter had then forced her to remarry someone who she did not love. Jonathan always knew there were things in the past which he did not know, but never expected these shocking things. These two instances of the Ward family and of Jonathan and his grandfather are valuable signs that if families cannot maintain a close unit, problems can develop, such as those that occurred in the book.
Family life is a central aspect of Spite Fences as well, shown primarily in the relationship between Maggie and her family; especially her mother. The title of the book itself suggests the primary theme represented. Maggie's mother had forced the family to build a huge fence around their property, making a fortress, to protect against the neighbors, the Boggs's. This fence was a symbol of the fences to which George referred. The dialogues between Maggie and George really bring out the messages of the book. He said that the solution to everything was to bring down these fences that existed in every aspect of life in Kinship. The whites had put up fences locking the rights of dignity into the white people and leaving the blacks out. Fences and gates were everywhere obstructing justice.
Maggie learns a great deal from Zeke as well. Zeke held his head high no matter what the situation, even while being brutally beaten. He said he would show that he had his dignity no matter what, and at the same time quoted from the Bible a saying which stated in essence, "turn the other cheek," or do not return evil for evil. He believed in passive resistance. When Maggie questioned his motives for his actions, he said that blacks and whites sweat from the same sun, walk on the same soil, and breath the same air. He said that we are all one, and therefore we should all have equal rights. He decided his purpose was to gain these rights for his people.
Maggie's mother represents the terrible ignorance of the society, much of which still prevails in society today. She teaches her children that blacks are inferior and that interacting with them is disgraceful. When she discovers that Maggie had cleaned for a black man, she erupts violently and then screams that Maggie has shamed the entire family. She feels that blacks can only clean for whites, and not the other way around. Maggie was always afraid of her mother and even though her mother abused her, she always tried to justify her actions. A great turning point for Maggie comes when her mother accuses her of shaming the family once again. Pictures are discovered which Maggie had taken from the rally and they are posted by someone all over the Pugh's front fence with hateful words all over. Maggie's mother nearly kills her and Maggie finally leaves the home. She tells her mother that she now knows that it is her mother who has been wrong this whole time. No mother should treat any child that way. Maggie realizes and explains that there is nothing wrong with being friends with black people and hopes her mother will one day realize as well.
The central theme of the book, which is simply that racism and segregation are ultimately wrong and unnecessary, is best conveyed through Maggie's thoughts as she witnesses, in terror, the events at Byer's drug store during the strike. Ideas which had been so thoroughly instilled in her all her life unraveled in just minutes as she observed the injustice occurring right before her, and then imagined on how great a scale it must be all over the nation, or even world wide. George Hardy was the one who introduced her to National Geographic, where she was later published. The magazine showed her the scope of the world, and how different it was from Kinship -- and how similar in many cases as well. She was finally convinced that everyone is equal and deserves equal rights under the law.
The method of portrayal of racism in society in these first several books involves a "happy" ending in which a character always learns valuable lessons which positively shape his or her attitude. Richard Wright, in two of his novels, leaves the lessons to be learned by the reader and does not necessarily conclude his stories in the best scenario for the hero.
The title of the first work, Black Boy, is the focus of the entire life story of the author. It is a simple phrase which represents a concept viewed from two perspectives. To the whites of southern society, Richard, like many others, is just a black boy; nothing more and nothing less. He has no value, no intellectual potential, no thinking or earning capability, and no important use to the world. He will live a menial life and die unnoticed. Unfortunately, "black boy" means the same thing to the blacks themselves. In Richard Wright's eyes, the blacks of society have timidly conformed to the expectations the whites have impressed upon them, without the scarcest signs of rebellion. Therefore they are simply co-conspirators in the process of racial discrimination. He indirectly emphasizes the cliche, "If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem."
Interesting points of view are offered as responses to the hatred of whites. In one of his jobs, Richard is told by a fellow black employee that he must forget his pride when around whites. Survival is the first concern of man. Although Richard desires to write, move north, and to "be a man," and he knows that without these dreams he will become exactly what his family has predicted, he puts his manhood aside and tries to stick to the job.
Richard also rationalizes the development of a criminal as inevitable. He views the criminal as without personal responsibility for his crime. The criminal's actions are beyond his own control. Social pressures have forced him to produce them. In this desperate state of mind he steals the money he needs to move to Memphis. But later, Richard realizes that crime means suffering. It might soothe one's pain temporarily, but it does not help society. He finally concludes that crime is only evil if it fails to improve society. It only occurs when one's opportunities have been cut off.
Finally, Richard Wright presents the theme of revenge. He states that his survival of the efforts to destroy him alone forces evil people to change their ways. That is his revenge. He will endure the hardships and flourish as an individual.
Wright's second work, Native Son, is the story of Bigger Thomas, a militant young black man living in the ghetto of Chicago's South Side. It is divided into three sections entitled Fear, Flight, and Fate. Throughout the story, Bigger struggles for self-realization. He is sure though, that his mother, brother, and his employer's daughter Bessie are all blind to what really matters in life. Thousands of whites launch a search for Bigger after Bessie's bones are found in the furnace and he is linked with her murder. He flees from building to building as all blacks are terrorized in the middle of the night and the police move closer and closer to him. Bigger is once again consumed by fear as he seeks refuge. He tries to escape white society and its laws and yet he knows this struggle is futile. The white man's laws dispose of blacks one way or another, whether guilty or innocent. Finally, he is discovered and dragged down, step by step, back into the black world, and into a new ghetto: prison.
The themes concerning racism and injustice have their greatest impact in the third section, Fate, in which the concentration is on Bigger's trial and execution. His lawyer is Boris A. Max, a Communist. For days Bigger lies in a mental stupor, refusing to acknowledge anything. Before he had killed twice to remove from his soul conflicts brought out by fear, but now he desired to blot out his entire existence. He refuses spiritual blessings when a minister comes to the cell and does not acknowledge his family when they visit.
At the trial, the author uses Max to state many things about the condition of society. He contends that Bigger was forced to rebel and forced to commit murder. He says that a situation exists and whites must help to alleviate it. Max states that the structure of the black-white relationship fosters murder and needs to be changed. White society is begged to listen, not to save Bigger's life but to prevent other Biggers from coming along. The black man needs the same freedom of movement that the white man has. Although Bigger finally dies in the electric chair, it is society that will ultimately suffer if changes aren't made.
The only solution to combat the foolish misconceptions which are present in all of the novels is persistence. The wise must continue to spread positive messages and never give up. History has been in favor of passive resistance, demonstrated remarkably in the sit-in at the drug store in Spite Fences. The protesters proved that legal changes can be made and peaceful unification can improve society. The same nonviolent philosophy is encouraged in the young players in Danger Zone. Rather than respond to the sometimes violent fans, they focus on the task at hand and show dignity. When violence is utilized in response to racial tension, the terrible consequences of Richard Wright's novels are sure to arise. The plots all involve fighting for a cause and going to all measures to appeal to the ignorant, in attempt to better society. Max, from Native Son, and Hardy, from Spite Fences, are two symbols of wisdom. They exemplify this battle against ignorance. Max's speech at Bigger's trial, which is a plea to all of society, is the most compelling argument against the hatred which corrupts the world today out of all of the novels. Those who have been successful in battling prejudice would agree that no matter how adamant the opposition or hopeless the situation, one must be resolute and eventually hate in the form of racism and other prejudice can be vanquished.