American society has always been a matter of reflection for a vast amount of people all over the world. People tend to consider the United States of America as an ideal place to live and work. According to some the country is unbeatable because of the government, the policy that authorities lead while some consider the people of America, and its society is a key to the invincible state. The discussions about the pros and cons of the country could be led hours and hours. The main purpose of the given essay is to analyze and discuss the conflicts or divisions within American society with the help of literary texts from the American literature.
There are writings of the past times authors as well as the modern texts excerpts. The paper will focus on issues in these texts that were considered as the factors of the division and dissidences in the American society. The main texts I would like to ponder over are: Frederick Douglass’ Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave and Dave Eggers’ Zeitoun. If the observation of the social history of the United States of America is being done it is obvious to find out that that the American society has never actually been entire.
Back in history it was commonly divided into master and slaves, sooner into colored and white, still existing in an implicit way in some states and finally after the 9/11 attacks the new group of people considered as marginal began to appear, the ones, especially Muslims who may cause threat to the society, suspiciously regarded as “terrorists”. This “division” of people is not obvious but still exists in the society nowadays. In order to discuss the division of society in the past let us have a look at the writing by a well-known American author Frederick Douglass.
The works by this author belong to slave narrative genre. The main characteristics of the genre are: often first-person narratives (in order to prove the authenticity of the text, the narratives often included documents written by white people which stated the truthfulness of the narrative); the texts contain religious element and description of the slave’s coming to religion; depict the daily life of slaves, cruelness of white masters; emphasis on gaining literacy as a way to freedom; focus on the quest for freedom.
Frederick Douglass was a bright representative of the Slave narrative genre in the American literature. His texts such as Narrative of Frederick Douglass an American Slave, My bondage my freedom, Life and times of Frederick Douglass an African American Heritage Book contain the above-mentioned points and moreover they are considered to be very good examples of the slave narrative genre. He was keen on description of the unfair horrible conditions which slaves lived in, the absurd punishment used towards the slaves by the white masters and so on.
The Narrative of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave is considered one of the greatest pieces of the slave narrative genre. According to Donald B. Gibson “his narrative is not superior simply for aesthetic reason and it is more polished than the other writers narratives, it is better in large measure because Douglass was able to not only depict existence of slavery but he was committed at once to articulate and mediate between the fact of the existence of slavery in a Christian, democratic society and state the fact of his life as felt and understood by himself”.
The result of such commitment in the autobiography is a dual focus: first, public and social as setting to correct the moral and political ills related to the fact of slavery and the second one, personal and private, expressing author’s own feelings, emotions and reactions. Some researchers believe that Douglass “sole purpose in his autobiography was to produce antislavery propaganda” (Vernon Loggins, the early twentieth century scholar). Throughout his text Douglas is widely use personal experience of slavery to lend authority to whatever observation or judgments are to be about the abstract notion of slavery.
While describing his mother Douglass depicts the general practices during slavery period then returns to personal vantage point: “The whisper that my master was my father, may or may not be true; and, true or false, it is but little consequence to my purpose whilst the fact remains, in all its glaring odiousness, that slaveholders have ordained, and by law established, that the children of slave women shall in all cases follow the condition of their mothers; and this is done too obviously to administer to their own lusts, and make a gratification of their wicked desires profitable as well as pleasurable; for by this cunning arrangement, the slaveholder, in cases not a few, sustains to his slaves the double relation of master and father. I know of such cases; and it is worthy of remark that such slaves inevitably suffer greater hardships, and have more to contend with, than others…. ” The passage illustrates the common practices happened at that time. Note that at the beginning it was Douglass’s own point about his father. This strategy prevails in most of Narrative, though sometimes the common practice comes first and the personal point follows and sometimes vice versa.
It has two functions: to sustain balance between the public and private focus; and to ground abstractions about the evils of slavery in the specific, concrete experience of one person thus rendering it more vivid and convincing. The second text in discussion of the division or conflict within American society is a non-fiction piece by Dave Eggers. The author is a contemporary writer who can be ranked with the prominent authors, such as Hemingway, Shaw, Ellison and others. Eggers covers themes such as family, male hood, death and lost that could be applied to the parts of his own life. He was nominated as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His book Zeitoun has been written after the Hurricane Katrina with the full participation of the Zeitoun family and reflects their view of the events.
The genre of the book can be referred as a War story with the elements of western and morality play. It contains the elements of war on terror. There can be seen similarities in author’s personality and life with ones of Abdulrahman. The conflict within American society can be seen in the text by the means of the mistreatment of Zeitoun and his friends, not native Americans as well by the police officers, the guards at Camp Greyhound, FEMA etc. At the beginning of the book the reader can see the accomplishment of “American dream” as the realization of Abdulrahman’s ambitions: a big family, loving wife and children, the two-storey house, well-established company, the respect and appreciation by the neighborhood and friends.
But reading further and knowing the post-Katrina and to-day circumstances of the Zeitouns it is hard to believe that all that happens in the USA and can be seen as a nightmare rather than American dream. The arrest of Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a middle-aged businessman and father of four and other three man on Clairbone avenue and keeping Zeitoun a month in a maximum-security prison was because of the circumstances in post-Katrina New Orleans was close to the third world country. In the passages where Kathy meets her family members the dislike towards the Muslims can be noticed in the pleas to take off Katy’s hijab were made by her siblings and mother.
The fact that one of Abdulrahman’s friends keep his savings in cash instead f keeping it in bank because of mistreatment towards Arabs show the division within American society, in my humble opinion. The excerpt from book Zeitoun: “Kathy finds herself wondering, early in the morning and late at night and sometimes just while sitting with little Ahmad sleeping on her lap: Did it all really happen? Did it happen in the United States? To us? (p329) It could have been avoided, she thinks…illustrate that there is no guarantee that the country whatever is the power or significance of it can easily be thrown to the condition of anarchy. To bring things together it may be said that there is still conflicts in society of the United States of America.