Gregory experiences both external shame and internal shame. Gregory conveys his message by revealing how his life in poverty took a toll on him as a person. He shares many incidents to support his message. The girl that he wants the most does not even notice him. He is invisible to her and not even worthy of her acknowledgment, unless he is good. He explains how the students at school segregate him, as well as his teacher, because he is poor. He ends with his internal shame caused by his own actions with the wino. These events support the fact that all of the inhuman acts made towards him changed him as person and the way he acts towards others.
Gregory’s first example of individual inhumanity begins with Helene Tucker. He demonstrates how much he does for her every day in order for her to never see him dirty. He gives details of how he would come face to face with her and she never fully acknowledges him. He shovels the snow out of her path home, ““Here comes Helene,” and I’d rub my tennis sneakers on the back of my pants and wish my hair wasn’t so nappy and the white folks shirt fit me better. I’d run out on the street. If I knew my place and didn’t come too close, she’d wink at me and say hello. That was good feeling” (583). Helene is just polite when she comes across him, but she never really interacts with him.
His example for social inhumanity is in his classroom. His teacher separates him from the class. The incidents indicate that the teacher has something against him. His chair has a circle drawn around it and is called the “idiot seat”. Gregory begins to explain why he finds himself in the predicament of being seated in that chair frequently. He implies that his hunger is the fault for why he can never concentrate in class, making his teacher to presume he is stupid; “The teacher thought I was stupid. Couldn’t spell, couldn’t read, couldn’t do arithmetic. Just stupid. Teachers were never interested in finding out that you couldn’t concentrate because you were so hungry, because you hadn’t had any breakfast” (584).
He makes his point powerful by using the metaphor, “I was pregnant with poverty. Pregnant with dirt and pregnant with smells that made people turn away, pregnant with cold and pregnant with shoes that were never bought for me, pregnant with five other people in my bed and no Daddy in the next room, and pregnant with hunger.” (584). He learns to cope with the conditions that he lives in until it is made clear what everyone categorized him as “poor”. He is made to feel as if he should be ashamed, “I never learned hate at home, or shame. I had to go to school for that.” (583).
The situation that took place in the classroom gives him his first lesson in shame. The teacher was collecting the money for the community chest. Gregory desperately wants to impress Helene; and he would buy himself a “daddy”, “I decided I was going to buy me a Daddy right then. I had money in my pocket from shining shoes and selling papers, and whatever Helene Tucker pledged for her Daddy I was going to top it. And I’d hand the money right in. I wasn’t going to wait until Monday to buy me a Daddy” (584) He decides that he would hand the money right in that very same Friday instead of Monday. When the teacher calls role to see how much students fathers will donate she does not even call Gregory. When he tries to pledge fifteen dollars she disregards it and instead chastised him and said “We are collecting this money for you and your kind, Richard Gregory. If your Daddy can give fifteen dollars you have no business being on relief.”. (585)
The teacher ultimately took it further and completely abuses her authority over a child she is supposed to take care of and nourish mentally. The teacher singles him out and basically announces to all her students; ““And furthermore,” she said, looking right at me, her nostrils getting big and her lips getting thin and her eyes opening wide, “we know you don’t have a Daddy.”” (585). In that moment Gregory learns to be ashamed by a person who is supposed to know better. All he remembers is looking at Helene and seeing her eyes water up from the pity she felt for him. He expresses how he felt that day and after; “I walked out of school that day, and for a long time I didn’t go back very often. There was shame there.” (585)
Gregory begins to see shame everywhere after that incident; “Now there was shame everywhere. It seemed like the whole world had been inside that classroom, everyone had heard what the teacher had said, everyone had turned around and felt sorry for me.” (585) He feels as if everyone he knows had been in that room with him that day. He begins associating his whole life with shame. He feels shame in attending the Worthy Boys Annual Christmas Dinner, in wearing his mackinaw, in asking for rotten peaches, in sticking his pail down the soda machine to grab ice, in running out to meet the relief truck. He even begins avoiding walking through streets and chose alleys just to avoid people seeing him; “And then I started to sneak through alleys, to take the long way home so the people going into White’s Eat Shop wouldn’t see me.”
Gregory goes to a restaurant after all of these incidents. While he is in the restaurant enjoys his meal, he sees a wino enter. He watches him as he orders his meal and he observes how much the man enjoyed his meal. When the wino tells the owner of the restaurant that he has no money he watches him brutally reap a beating by the owner and how he repeatedly receives kicks to his stomach. He reiterates how many times the wino got kicked. He then runs to the owner and says, “Leave him alone, Mister Williams. I’ll pay the twenty-six cents.”, but it was too late the deed had been done. The wino got up and said “Keep your twenty-six cents. You don’t have to pay, not now. I just finished paying for it.” He started to walk out, and as he passed me. He reached down and touched my shoulder. “Thanks, sonny, but it’s too late now. Why didn’t you pay it before?”cindy. He realizes that he had let too much time pass; “I was pretty sick about that. I waited too long to help another man.”He then finishes by calling him a “man”. He realizes that not only did he treat a man the way he had been treated but also that there was shame in repeating the cycle of how his teacher was towards him.
Gregory’s use of words was well put together and powerful. His use of metaphors, and imagery were strategic. He was able to convey his message easily by making the picture vivid and using exaggerations for the idea to be understood. His use of “pregnant” made an impact as pregnant woman cannot help their cravings it just an impulse that is very persistent and in most cases is done to satisfy that hunger. Gregory realizes that not only is there shame externally that is caused by others socially or individually but also that there is external shame that can be caused by one’s self. He experienced individual shame with the way Helene Tucker would treat him as someone less versus and equal. He went through social inhumanity by the way his teacher chose to humiliate him and make him less in their class setting. Finally he went through internal shame when he realized that he should of helped the wino sooner. He realized that he treated him just the way he had been treated and felt sick about it.
Courtney from Study Moose
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