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The Welcome Table vs Country Lovers Essay

Have you ever experienced discrimination and/or racism? It is my belief that, sadly, most of us have; for this paper I have chosen to compare and contrast the literary works, “The Welcome Table” by Alice Walker, and “Country Lovers” by Nadine Gordimer. Both of these literary pieces give the reader awareness of the pain and suffering endured by the two African-American characters that were subject to racial discrimination and the superior mentality of those that participated in the discrimination.

Discrimination and racism is the core issue in both of these short stories; I will address the subject of racism in various ways. A similarity of both short stories is that the narrator reveals the characters through observation which means both stories are told in the third-person omniscient point of view. I will explore how the narrator drew me in when reading each of the stories. I can relate to to each through experiences in my life’s journey, and will explore those emotions a bit as well. The stories authors will also be compared and contrasted and compared.

“The Welcome Table” Storyline

“The Welcome Table” story was intriguing to me because the author describes the old woman as one who does not have emotional ties with the people around her. “The Welcome Table” theme is racism. I was moved deeply by ”The Welcome Table,” in which an old, dying black woman is evicted by bodily force from a white church, but then meets-up with Jesus on the highway. I believe the old woman is bitter from the days she was a slave to the white people. Because of this, it appears she has focused only on Jesus for some time now; she knows it will soon be time to join Him. The old woman in the story is a spiritual woman, but bitter, and is so looking forward to her day of meeting with her Lord Jesus Christ, it appears she cares little about anything else at this point in her life. For example, in “The Welcome Table”:

“The old woman stood with eyes uplifted in her Sunday–go–to–meeting clothes: high shoes polished about the tops and toes, a long rusty dress adorned with an old corsage, long withered, and the remnants of an elegant silk scarf as head rag stained with grease from the many oily pigtails underneath. Perhaps she had known suffering. There was a dazed and sleepy look in her aged blue–brown eyes. But for those who searched hastily for “reasons” in that old tight face, shut now like an ancient door, there was nothing to be read. And so they gazed nakedly upon their own fear transferred; a fear of the black and the old, a terror of the unknown as well as of the deeply known. Some of those who saw her there on the church steps spoke words about her that were hardly fit to be heard, others held their pious peace; and some felt vague stirrings of pity, small and persistent and hazy, as if she were an old collie turned out to die.”.

“Country Lovers” Storyline

The “Country Lovers” storyline was captivating as well; the theme is racism also. In this story the characters are young; “Country Lovers” follows the evolving relationship between a white, well to do farm-owner’s son, Paulus, and the black daughter of a farm-worker, Thebedi. “Country Lovers” is set in South Africa, and focuses greatly on the product of the star-crossed lovers union. Example in “Country Lovers”:

“For the first time since he was a small boy he came right into the kraal. It was eleven o’clock in the morning. The men were at work in the lands. He looked about him, urgently; the women turned away, each not wanting to be the one approached to point out where Thebedi lived.”

Apartheid Regime At the time this story happens, South Africa was under a strict apartheid regime. The white population of South Africa was in charge of the country, and even though they were the minority they oppressed the rest of the inhabitants, mostly the black population. In “Country Lovers”, we see how distinct the differences between blacks and white were. The fact that Paulus was found ‘not guilty’ of murder, even though there was enough evidence against him, shows how the white people protected each other at all costs. The story also tells how the white children get to go to school, while the black children are not considered when it comes to education. In my opinion, you have to know something about the apartheid period in South Africa in order to understand the short story fully. The educational value is definitely present.

And Today…Diverse Opinions

“In post-apartheid South Africa we speak about race extensively. It permeates our workplace, weaves a thread through the fabric of our professional and personal lives, as well as our private conversations and public interactions with others. From within psychoanalytic theory, the thread weaves through the unknown content of our radicalized unconscious. When there is a focus on race in the South African psychoanalytic context it largely takes the form of the struggle to articulate the complexities of working with difference, as Swartz notes, or the struggle to map out issues of race. Such struggles are not localized in South Africa, but strongly reflect a much broader struggle within the global psychoanalytic community, as mirrored in the expanding focus on race.” (Knight, Z. G. (2013))

“Fourteen years after apartheid, is the ideal of a rainbow nation fading? Not at all. South Africa has come a long way since the days of institutional racism. Its transition to democracy has been remarkably smooth, set against the country’s bitter past. You hear of few incidents of racially motivated violence. The vast majority of South Africans want a non-racial democracy that respects people’s differences. There are laws to punish unfair discrimination, and “black economic empowerment”–a positive-discrimination policy–seeks to redress past injustice.” (Knight, Z. G. (2013))

Theme and Characters

As you can see already, there are many differences, but there is but one meaningful theme in both stories, racism. In “The Welcome Table” the main character is an old woman, ready to meet her maker; it is apparent the pain the woman has endured throughout her life just by the description of the condition of her appearance, “beaten by king cotton and the extreme weather”, the condition of her clothing items “a long rusty dress adorned with an old corsage, long withered, and the remnants of an elegant silk scarf as head rag stained with grease from many oily pigtails underneath”, and the emptiness conveyed by her to the outsiders “a dazed and sleepy look in her aged blue brown eyes.”. The descriptiveness, the symbolism drew me in when reading this story.

Racism and Spirituality

Black liberation theology is a theological perspective found in some Christian churches in the United States which contextualizes Christianity in an attempt to help African-Americans overcome oppression. Black liberation theology seeks to liberate people of color from multiple forms of political, social, economic, and religious subjugation and views Christian theology as a theology of liberation- “a rational study of the being of God in the world in light of the existential situation of an oppressed community, relating the forces of liberation to the essence of the Gospel, which is Jesus Christ,” writes James Hal Cone, one of the original advocates of the perspective.

African-American theology has come from biblical faith to cultural captivity

dogmatic texts from the patristic period to the Reformation. Dogma is a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true

Theme and Characters

In “Country Lovers”, the main characters are young, and see the beauty in life for a time. I sympathize more with Thebedi throughout the story; I believe she leaves herself vulnerable when she chooses to give herself to Paulus; I believe him to know more what the outcome of their relationship will be; I believe she secretly wants for her lover to be with her and their child. I see women to be more unrealistic because of their deep emotional attachments. I believe Paulus was a bit full of himself as well. He is heartless to call the baby it, and then to kill her himself? In both stories, there is the knowledge of racism by the characters, but in “The Welcome Table”, although the old woman is aware, she does not consider what others will think at this point, and in “Country Lovers”, the threat of what others may think means very much.

Heart-breaking Realities

In both stories I see the reality of broken-hearts. In “The Welcome Table” the old woman has been through much because of racism in her day; in “Country Lovers”, the heart-break is just beginning. Both stories are culturally rich, but in diverse ways. While “Country Lovers” tells of how it is acceptable to ‘test’ the waters to see if your wife to be is able to bare your fruit, “The Welcome Table” implies that the old woman was accepted as ‘grandma’ or ‘auntie’ when raising a white man’s children, but when it came to entering their church there was no acceptance what-so-ever.

To me, these short stories have very different endings. The ending in “Country Lovers” was absolutely heart-breaking compared to the ending of “The Welcome Table”, which had a rather happy ending in my way of thinking.

Authors

Many authors have written essays, stories, and poems about negative judgmental and biased views of people in hopes to understand unfair treatment towards mankind and promote changes in human behavior that will bring solutions of peace. These authors are no different; both authors have been rewarded many honorary awards for promoting peace. Ironically, Nadine Gordimer is a white woman born and raised in South Africa and Alice Walker is an African-American from Eatonton, Georgia, but both authors have kindred spirits and are celebrated for their commitments to fight racism.

These authors have a twenty year age difference, and have experienced racism in very diverse ways, in their very diverse lives. Nadine Gordimer grew-up in a privileged family, while Alice Walker grew-up poor. Her mother worked as a maid to help support the family’s eight children, while Nadine Gordimer is an only child, whose mother imagined her to be ill, weak, throughout her childhood. Both authors began writing at an early age, each for different reasons I believe. Alice Walker started writing age eight, and Nadine Gordimer at nine. Alice Walker, who also wrote ”The Color Purple”, started writing after listening to her grandfather’s stories, who was the inspiration for Mr. in ”The Color Purple”; “With my family, I had to hide things,” she said. “And I had to keep a lot in my mind.”. Nadine Gordimer’s first writings were that of apartheid on the lives of South Africans; Gordimer witnessed government repression firsthand when still a teenager; the police raided her family home, confiscating letters and diaries from a servant’s room.

Personal Thoughts and Feelings on Racism

I have had mostly bi-racial amorous relationships in my lifetime; I am Caucasian, and my romantic relationships have been with African-American and Hispanic men. Even in this day and age I believe many people frown on this. Many of the people of either race whole-heartily approves of this in my opinion. The struggle to eliminate racism from our world is an important one. Understanding what it is, understanding the key role it plays in dividing people, and how to challenge it, in ourselves and others, is central to our understanding of how oppression works and how, ultimately, we can free all humanity from it. Racism is ignorance.

There are no rational conflicts of interest between any peoples on this planet. There is not rational need for the artificial borders that have been erected over the years to separate different groups of humans. All people deserve an equal share in and access to food, shelter, education, health care and the other necessities of life. The false divisions created by racism only serve the short-term interests of systems which constantly try to divide us and distract us from seeing the underlying economic exploitation that feeds greed. Some have minds that are full of misinformation and confusions about people who have a skin color that is different to our own. Many have been left with irrational fears about countless aspects of other peoples’ and their cultures.

The Solution?

Nadine Gomier and Alice Walker both wrote what they lived; both stories are laced with racism and discrimination. Where does the solution to this basic human problem lie? The simple answer is in helping people consider an alternate course of action. How? Here is where it gets complex. Let me present several complementary models. First, a basic premise: Racism in its essence is the refusal to accept the other as an equal. To do so, one will have to share in the societal rewards of social wealth, political power, and structural privilege.

If racism has nothing to do with biology, but has everything to do with socially structured beliefs and behavior, then it can also be socially unlearned and unstructured. How people proceed, however, depends on how they see themselves when confronted with evil. The great Karl Marx spoke of “the haves and the have nots”; I see that to be very accurate still today. In “The Welcome Table and “country Lovers We cannot change yesterday, and we cannot predict tomorrow, but we can live today. So, do not allow anyone to make you feel less than or hurt you.


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