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There are certain prevailing themes evident through the duration of the story, like race versus class, and religion versus faith; through these we can see the violence and terror that tear through Sue’s and Johnny Boy’s life and how they confront it. From the start of the story, it is evident that Sue loves her family and even though her and her sons have different beliefs she would do anything to protect them.
Sue is a Christian woman, and has been since she was a little girl living and working on a farm learning the songs and meaning of the Lord through her mom.
Her sons, however, are not swayed by her religious ideals and instead turn to the Communist Party as their faith, “She had sought to fill their eyes with her vision, but they would have none of it. And she had wept when they began to boast of the strength shed by a new and terrible vision,” (814).
If they had listened to their mom and stuck with Christianity instead of Communism then none of the violence and terror would have been upon them, Sug would not be in jail, Johnny Boy would not have been tortured to death, and Sue need not have watched her sons be imprisoned and tortured then be killed herself. Over time though her beliefs start to change and she sees her sons’ point of view, “The past and the present would become mixed in her; while toiling under a strange star for a new freedom the old songs would slip from her lips with their beguiling sweetness,” (814).
She too wants equality and is proud of her sons for standing up for what they believe in, but is also afraid for them, especially Johnny Boy who is willing to die to protect the Party and its members. During this time period, violence toward black people was common and terribly nasty especially in the South where lynching was common and often a group sport. Like many black people of this time, Sue distrusts most white people, and when hearing there is a leak in the Party she automatically points her finger at the white members.
Johnny Boy on the other hand does not, “Mah, Ah done tol yuh a hundred times Ah can’t see white an Ah can’t see Black. Ah sees rich men an Ah sees po men,” (822). They are both somewhat naive, it is not white versus black and rich versus poor, but rather a combination of the two with shades of gray mixed in, like Reva demonstrates when she sneaks out to warn Sue of the danger coming after Johnny Boy. Of course during this time, almost all southern white folks saw themselves superior to blacks and had no problem distributing harsh punishments, like breaking Johnny Boy’s kneecaps with a crow bar and deafening him.
The violence described is so real that their terror is tangible off the paper. By the end of the story, the violence and terror Sue and Johnny Boy had to endure is terribly surreal. Even though they may not believe wholly in the same things, the horror they both confronted came from a combination of race and their beliefs. Wright’s depiction of violence in his use of language is what constellates race, violence, and terror.
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