A middle-aged white man from Mansfield Texas named John Howard Griffin is the main character and author of Black like Me. He was a man deeply committed to the cause of ending racial discrimination. In 1959, Griffin decided to take a pertinently extreme measure just to understand the plight of the black people. He underwent medical treatment to change the color of his skin and temporarily become a black man. Griffin’s experience was funded by George Levitan, the owner of Sepia, a black oriented magazine in return for an article about it.
Griffin sets out for New Orleans. He finds a contact- Sterling Williams, an articulate, soft-spoken, and engaging shoe shiner. Along the way, Griffin experiences oppression, hardship, and prejudice. It is impossible to find a job, he is forbidden from ordering a drink at the soda fountain and he wasn’t allowed to use a restroom used by whites. Clerks refuse to cash his checks as well. Griffin travels to Alabama and into the Deep South and Mississippi and finds that the condition is even worse for blacks.
He finds their condition alarming. Black communities seem defeated and run down. All day long, the word “nigger” seems to echo everywhere he goes. After two months of a depressing life as a Black man, Griffin stops taking his medication and lightens his skin back to its original color. He notices that when he is a white man, whites treat him with respect and blacks treat him with suspicious fear; when he is a black man, blacks teat him with generosity and kindness and whites seem to look at him with contempt and hostility.
The article is published in 1960 and he was called to do interviews. The article is published around the world and he receives both congratulatory mails and hateful reprisals. Mansfield consists of many racists so Griffin and his family moved to Mexico in August of that year. Griffin issues a plea for tolerance and understanding between the races so as to avoid the possible outbreak of terrible violence. II. A critique on the book Black like me is more of a memoir rather than a novel; it is an autobiographical memoir in particular.
It springs out from the author’s real experiences as well as his personal opinions rather than from mere imaginations or artistic creativity. The book itself stared from a research project. Griffin ostensibly desires to experience hoe it is to be like a black man so that he may understand firsthand the hardships and obstacles that they encounter in their daily lives. The books main theme is racial discrimination. Griffin’s quest for equality and social justice led him to temporarily change his identity from a white man to a black one.
This transition is one clear proof to the crucial importance of one’s skin color as a factor in determining one’s position in this world. Griffin writes about the hardships of finding shelter and food as a black man; the difficulties of cashing a check despite the fact that he didn’t change his identity; riding a bus or even just finding a restroom where blacks are allowed to use. Blacks and whites behave differently when in one another’s company. Whites look at blacks with contempt and hostility and blacks treat whites with suspicious fear.
This behavior is different however when they are with their groups and just among themselves. They treat each other with respect, kindness and generosity. Neither race has an understanding of the other. Griffin’s Black like Me explores the themes of segregation, racism and the capacity of humans to love their fellowmen. In this novel, there is the presence of men who made a different stand. P. D. East, Sterling Williams, George Levitan, Adele Jackson, and Sam Gandy support Griffins advocacy; A proof that there is some goodness in this world.
Black like me is a short book, but considered one of the finest pieces of literature ever produced. The social message of the author’s experience is clearly advocated through the narrative structure of the book. III. 3 incidents that I personally find interesting and why? • When Griffin underwent a medical treatment – the ultraviolet radiation combined with oral medication to darken his skin pigmentation. I find it personally interesting because it is a rare occasion that a person will consider doing the same experiment as Griffin did.
He did a pertinently extreme measure just to feel exactly how it is to be like a black man. The medical procedure that Griffin underwent is neither tested nor safe. He experienced pain and other side effects from his exposure to the ultraviolet as well as with the medication. • When Griffin spends the day working on the shoe shine booth together with Williams and Joe and that they only have raccoon meat and rice eaten out of a tin can for their meals.
This spells the gap between a white man eating in a luxurious restaurant and a black man who regards having enough to eat, no matter how crude the meal is, as a mark of dignity. • When a white bully follows Griffin around, calling him names and threatening him. This incident only proves the material difference between whites and blacks. This incident portrayed the constant threat of violence, prejudice and oppression. In this particular scenario, he is treated like an animal being chased away just because the color of his ski is black.
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