The first one is the theme of racism and Schuyler’s attempts to bridge that racial divide through satire and trickery. Then there is the discourse of people’s ignorance when it comes to believing popular opinion and not thinking for themselves. George Schuyler’s interpretation of the American Dream, and how it sets the discourse of the self-made man and some of the ruthless ways in which they acquire their wealth through less than honest means.
The novel also touches on the discourse of the idea of a utopian society and how that idea would never work. The last discourse is on the hypocrisy of people when it comes to the racial divide in the county. The novel argues compelling points to each of these topics and George Schuyler is using satire to bring out how ridiculous our own prejudices are and uses those prejudices to prove his point. Schuyler’s novel treats of racial identity in a highly exaggerated way. Being able to change one’s whole identity in three days is absurd in its own way.
Schuyler does not apply a conventional definition of passing in the novel, there are no narratives that highlight the affliction inherent in the passer’s condition, instead he introduces the possibility of trans coloration. The newly white characters struggle to conceal their black heritage, which is an element of trickery, and that poses a threat to the racial divide. Schuyler uses both trickery and the threat to the color line are central to the theme of passing. The Black community not only passes for white but ends up being “two to three shades lighter than the old Caucasians” (Black No More page 177). Schuyler uses skin color to highlight that in prejudicial societies it is used as a symbol that distinguishes people from each other. The characters in the novel are always paying attention to other people’s skin color.
They are so focused on noticing their own skin color that they fail to see how alike they all are to each other. How equally prejudiced they are against each other. The book highlights and uses satire to point out the ignorance of others when it comes to them being able to think for themselves. An example of this is when Matthew is about to give a speech in front of the members of the Knights of Nordica, he realizes that these people are not as different from those he has seen at the black church gatherings. Matthew sees the similarities between whites and blacks in that their willingness to believe whatever they are told. Their ignorance is a uniting factor in a society divided by race.
Another example is when there was talk about why Black-No-More should be closed, an important politicized topic for so many people at that time. An investigation on the company was performed and the report was published and only nine people read the report. This indicates the inconsistency and fickleness of the public and that the topic was not that big of a deal or that of significant importance to the public at large. The novel points out how people can be swept up by popular opinion when they do not think for themselves, almost like a mob mentality and then they quickly lose those opinions when they are no longer in the forefront of that popular opinion.
The American Dream. There are many interpretations and notions of what the American Dream means. To Schuyler, it was made most relevant in the aspect of social mobility and the model of the self-made man. Schuyler undermines the social myths of the American Dream and that of the self-made man. When the novel was written in the 1920’s, America was viewed as a prosperous utopia where opportunities were endless and businessmen were considered national hero’s.
The idea that the self-made man could lift themselves up from obscurity to commercial success was the ideal of the American Dream but that dream was and has been exploited by those who are less than honest and see an opportunity to use the public to make money. Americans love rags-to-riches stories and the self-made man success stories use a narrative that these men are humble, honest people with sincere ambitions towards their upward mobility. Schuyler turns this narrative around and uses characters in his novel to portray these self-made men as less than those that are humble and honest with their ambitions.
For example, the character of Reverend Alex McPhule, the leader of a new faith has had more than one career depicted in Black No More. He pretending to have a religious conviction was merely a subterfuge for the fact that he was a hypocritical person, that would do anything to further his position in life and that included his career as a spiritual leader. Schuyler built this character on the artificiality and the stereotypical narrative of spiritual rebirth that these leaders claim to have, “An angel of God had visited him one summer evening in Meridian, he told them, when he was down sick in bed as the result of his sinning ways, and he had told him to reform and go forth into the world and preach the true faith of Christ’s love. He had promised to do so, of course, and then the angel had placed the palm of his right hand on Reverend McPhule’s forehead and all the sickness and misery had departed.” (Black No More page 166).
The character of Henry Givens, the leader of the racist Knights of Nordic organization, is portrayed as a selfish criminal whose success was given to him off the backs of the naïve public, a society stunned by the popular myths glorifying social ascension of the humble and virtuous. Another example of exploiting the self-made man can be seen in President Goosie and Reverend Givens, they try to reveal themselves to the public as righteous, hard-working citizens and during the campaigns they advertise themselves as such and can be seen in the following passage, “Long articles appeared in the Sunday newspapers, extolling the simple virtues of the two great men.
Both, it seemed, had come from poor but honest families, both were hailed as tried and true friends of the great, common people; both were declared to be ready to give their strength and intellect to America for the next four years.” (Black No More page 130). These characters illustrate the discourse between the American Dream and how the self-made man uses Christian love within the context of a racist edict that deviates from reality and how seldom the basic ingredients of virtue and diligence are found in the heart of these narratives. The discourse of a utopian society. Schuyler uses this novel to take a stance to mock the idea of a utopian society. To some, a utopian society is ideal, no one disagrees with each other and everyone gets along. In reality, this type of society would never happen.
People are too different from each other, we all have our own ideals for what we want for ourselves, a utopian society would mean no free thinking and no individualism. When Max became white, he thought that all his problems would be gone and that his life would be so much better. The reality of the situation did not live up to his dreamed-up expectations. In a sense, he lost a part of who he was and what made him unique. Schuyler used the anti-utopian theme to show that no matter what, a utopian society would never work because we are all different, with different opinions that are unique to our own individualism regardless to what race or ethnic background we belong to.
Schuyler shows that even in a society where racial divisions could be erased, there would always be something in a society that people objected to. A utopian society would lead to a dystopia because we are all different. In the early twentieth century, racism is a controversial issue in the United States. The way in how people were treated was based on their skin color, Schuyler uses this text to point out the hypocrisy of people’s thoughts and actions if all the people in the United States were white. Max, the main character, after being rejected by a white woman based off his skin color, undergoes the procedure to go from Black to White.
The scientific breakthrough allows Black people to be fairly treated by those in the white community. What sounds as a simple solution to fix the problems in Max’s life only causes more problems. The opportunities that he thought would be open to him were not there and he is even rejected by the community he grew up with because he was white. Hypocrisy is brought up in every group in the novel and Schuyler is even critical of race leaders and institutions in the black community, one example of this is with the character of Dr. Shakespeare Agamemnon Beard,
“For a mere six thousand dollars a year, the learned doctor wrote scholarly and biting editorials in The Dilemma denouncing the Caucasians whom he secretly admired and lauding the greatness of the Negroes whom he alternately pitied and despised. In limpid prose, he told of the sufferings and privations of the downtrodden black workers with whose lives he was totally and thankfully unfamiliar.” (Black No More page 65). The many groups in the novel pretend to have principles that are not practiced.
The hypocrisy highlights one of the main problems of race relations in the United States. The white supremacists preach about having superiority over black people but is hypocritical because they find out that they have nonwhite ancestry. In fact, most people in the county have a multiracial family tree. The fact that there is a racial division in the country is hypocritical because the race lines are blurred. In the beginning of Black No More, Schuyler uses satire to parody and caricature the various characters and institutions that he gives light to in a context of humorous discourse. Schuyler uses irony to point out the contradictions and paradoxes of our socially constructed society. Schuyler uses Max’s infiltration of the racist society to point out the hypocrisy of society as a whole. That in part is what makes this novel successful in the message that Schuyler wants to impart, that the constraints on which we view race relations in society is what holds us back from moving forward. That the more things change, the more they stay the same.
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