Literature as Protest: A Critical Analysis

Categories: Richard Wright

In the eloquent words of Richard Wright, "All literature is protest. You can't name a single literary work that isn't protest." This profound statement encapsulates the multifaceted nature of protest embedded in the tapestry of literary narratives. Throughout the vast expanse of literature, protagonists and antagonists alike engage in protest, expressing their discontent with societal norms or personal struggles. This essay aims to delve even deeper into the exploration of this concept, drawing insights from the short stories "Screeno" and "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities," both masterfully crafted by the skilled hands of Delmore Schwartz.

Symbolism as a Profound Medium of Protest in "Screeno"

One compelling and nuanced way in which the aforementioned quote manifests itself is through the effective use of symbolism in "Screeno." The narrative unfolds as Cornelius Schmidt wins the Lotto, only to face the unyielding resistance of a corrupt system symbolized by the assistant manager at the theater. The resounding cry of "SCREENO!" from the audience marks a pivotal moment where the protagonist and the old man collectively challenge the deceitful tactics of those in power.

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The assistant manager's unwavering assertion that the old man's winning number is a misprint serves as a powerful and enduring symbol of a corrupted government manipulating circumstances to suit its agenda. The insistence on the number "7," despite the legitimacy of the win, mirrors the pervasive injustice entrenched within society. The theater audience, in turn, symbolizes a collective jury, embodying society's willingness to overlook corruption for the sake of entertainment. As the story unfolds, Cornelius Schmidt's noble decision to relinquish his hard-earned winnings to the old man emerges as a powerful and enduring symbol of justice triumphing over societal corruption.

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Expanding upon the theme of symbolism, it's crucial to dissect the significance of Cornelius Schmidt as a symbol of justice. His actions echo a larger societal protest against the manipulation and deceit perpetuated by those in positions of power. In yielding his winnings to the old man, Cornelius becomes an emblem of resistance, challenging the status quo and asserting the rights of the oppressed. This symbolizes not only an individual act of protest but also a broader call for justice and fairness within society.

Moreover, the theater setting itself becomes a symbolic arena, representing the stage on which the drama of societal protest unfolds. The audience, much like the readers of literature, becomes an active participant in this protest, tasked with judging the actions of the characters. Through this symbolic lens, Schwartz invites readers to introspect and align themselves with the role of jurors, prompting a collective contemplation of societal values and the need for protest against corruption.

Conflict and Internal Struggle: Layers of Protest in "Screeno"

Another avenue through which the protest in literature is artfully articulated is through the lens of conflict. The clash between Cornelius Schmidt and the assistant manager represents a broader Man vs. Society struggle. The assistant manager's relentless attempts to deny the old man his rightful winnings create palpable tension, leading to a deeper internal conflict within Cornelius himself.

As Cornelius contemplates the unfolding situation, the internal struggle evolves into a profound Man vs. Self conflict. The decision to altruistically relinquish his hard-earned jackpot money to the old man becomes a poignant testament to the power of individual conscience in the face of societal injustices. The narrative structure, presented in a 3rd person objective point of view, expertly invites readers to become active participants, akin to the theater audience, thereby reinforcing the palpable realness of the protest depicted in the story.

To further unravel the layers of protest embedded in conflict, it's essential to delve into the psychological nuances of Cornelius's internal struggle. His introspection and ultimate decision to defy the corrupt assistant manager reflect a personal protest against the societal norms that perpetuate injustice. The conflict, thus, becomes a microcosm of the larger societal struggles that individuals face when confronting systemic corruption.

Protest through Conflict and Imagery in "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities"

The exploration of protest in literature extends seamlessly to "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities," where conflict and imagery play pivotal and interconnected roles. The speaker grapples with a profound Man vs. Man conflict as he endeavors not to replicate the mistakes of his father. The father's undue emphasis on financial success and pessimistic outlook on life become sources of profound discontent for the speaker.

Imagery, skillfully interwoven into the narrative, amplifies the protest within the story. The vivid depiction of the argument between the speaker's parents near a fortune teller's booth is emblematic of the broader protest against societal expectations. The mother's unwavering determination to visit the fortune teller, despite the father's reluctance, paints a vivid and evocative picture of protest. The speaker's own visceral protest against the predetermined trajectory of his future unfolds as he watches a film depicting his parents' relationship, screaming at the screen in a desperate attempt to alter the course of events.

Examining the layers of protest within "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities," it becomes evident that the conflict transcends the individual struggle against parental influence. The speaker's protest is against societal norms that place undue emphasis on financial success, portraying a broader critique of a materialistic culture. The imagery of the fortune teller's booth symbolizes the clash between destiny and individual agency, where the mother's determination becomes a visual representation of the protest against the preordained path set by societal expectations.

Characterization and the Profound Struggle for Identity

Furthermore, the protest in literature is intricately woven into the rich tapestry of characterization. In "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities," the speaker's relentless struggle against becoming a mere reflection of his parents is driven by a deep-seated and profound desire for personal growth and change. The speaker's palpable low self-esteem and vocal opposition during the on-screen portrayal of his parents' relationship exemplify the internal protest against inherited flaws.

Examining the speaker's characterization in more depth unveils a profound protest against societal expectations and inherited traits. The speaker's low self-esteem becomes a poignant symbol of the impact of societal norms on individual identity. His vocal opposition during the on-screen portrayal of his parents' relationship becomes a metaphorical protest against the perpetuation of flawed ideologies and the desire for a redefined sense of self.

Furthermore, the usher's admonition that "everything you do matters too much" serves as a poignant reminder of the enduring impact of individual protest, even in the face of entrenched societal norms. The culmination of the narrative, with the speaker awakening on his 21st birthday, serves to reinforce the profound notion that in dreams, responsibilities begin—a poignant realization born out of the internal protest against a predetermined fate.

Conclusion: A Comprehensive Unveiling of Literary Protest

In conclusion, Richard Wright's assertion that "All literature is protest" finds an even more profound resonance in the nuanced narratives of "Screeno" and "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities." Through the masterful use of literary elements such as symbolism, conflict, imagery, and characterization, Delmore Schwartz crafts stories that not only entertain but also illuminate the various facets of protest inherent in the human experience.

These stories beckon readers to engage in profound introspection, challenging them to reflect on societal injustices, internal conflicts, and the perennial struggle for individual identity. As literature continues to serve as a reflective mirror, capturing the complexities of the human condition, it invariably becomes a powerful vehicle for protest, challenging the prevailing status quo and inspiring readers to contemplate the world and their place within it.

The expanded analysis of "Screeno" and "In Dreams Begin Responsibilities" reveals the layers of protest interwoven within the narratives, inviting readers to embark on a comprehensive exploration of societal critique and personal resistance. By dissecting the symbolic, conflictual, and imagistic elements, we unearth the profound implications of protest as an ever-present force in literature, perpetually shaping and reshaping our understanding of the human experience.

Updated: Jan 10, 2024
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Literature as Protest: A Critical Analysis. (2016, Sep 12). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/all-literature-is-protest-essay

Literature as Protest: A Critical Analysis essay
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