What It’s Like to Be a Black Girl

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 10 January 2017

What It’s Like to Be a Black Girl

Comparison of “What it’s like to be a black girl” and Country Lovers African American Literature dates back to the 18th century. These writings tend to focus on issues of racism, inner struggles, slavery, prejudice, and the pursuit of freedom as well as equality. Two renowned contributors to this field of literature are Nadine Gordimer and Patricia Smith. Throughout this paper, details of the short story Country Lovers, by Nadine Gordimer and the poem, “What it’s Like to Be a Black Girl,” by Patricia Smith, will be compared and contrasted to each other in regards to form, style, and content.

Nadine Gordimer has eight novels and more than 200 short stories included in her repertoire. She clearly has a talent for creating a short story with just enough information to keep the content minimal, while keeping the reader engaged and satisfied. Within this story, she details the struggles of an African woman in a difficult era with heartbreak, confusion, and prejudices. Gordimer “concentrates on the many forms of suffering humankind instigates and endures within calamitous and transforming moments” (Seaman, 2010, pg. 1, para. 1).

Country Lovers is a perfect example of Gordimer’s ability to tell a highly emotional story contained to just a couple of pages. Country Lovers tells the story of a white skinned Afrikaner boy who befriends the daughter of the black skinned help on his parents’ farm. The two become close and feelings begin to develop. Nadine Gordimer writes, “The trouble was Paulus Eysendyck did not seem to realize that Thebedi was now simply one of the crowd of farm children down at the kraal, recognizable in his sister’s old clothes” (Clugston, 2010, pg. para. ).

Paulus cared for Thebedi, in a way that was not accepted in society; “The schoolgirls he went swimming with at dams or pools on neighbouring farms wore bikinis but the sight of their dazzling bellies and thighs in the sunlight had never made him feel what he felt now when the girl came up the bank and sat beside him, the drops of water beading off her dark legs the only points of light in the earth” (Clugston, 2010, pg. , para. ). The white skinned young man had an appreciation for Thebedi.

Like Nadine Gordimer, Patricia Smith, the author of “What it’s Like to Be a Black Girl,” also writes about being black and the struggles that come along with it. She, on the other hand, does this in the form of a poem, written with feeling and emotion. The poem itself is not very long; however, the impact of it is quite powerful. Smith uses vivid details to describe the desire of a young black girl, trying to fit in in a white favored society. By writing, “It’s dropping food coloring in your eyes to make them blue and suffering their burn in silence.

Its popping a bleached white mophead over the kinks of your hair and primping in front of mirrors that deny your reflection,” Smith gives one the image of the pain associated with trying to change appearance to fit in with what society accepts. Throughout both the short story and the poem, culture plays an essential role. Author Patricia Smith, born in America but of African American descent, and author Nadine Gordimer, Caucasian, and of South African descent, both write about race and the effects of prejudices on Africans and African Americans.

They both use race as the theme in their individual pieces: Country Lovers and “What it’s Like to be a Black Girl. ” The authors chose to write about the pain and suffering that comes with having black skin. According to Martin Trump, “Nadine Gordimer’s prose fiction is among the best that give account of this sad process of alienation and social severance” (Trump, 1986, pg. 341, para. 2). In Country Lovers, Ms. Gordimer writes about the forbidden relationship between a white skinned boy and a black skinned girl; the setting takes place in South Africa, where prejudice is prevalent.

This story “lays bare an interracial love affair warped and then destroyed by the society surrounding them” (Rennison, 2010, pg. 1, para 3). The quote demonstrates suffering and pain developed by society’s prejudices; it adds to the fact that this author intended to show the suffering on both parties. Not only does prejudice affect the dark skinned woman, but also the white skinned man, and the innocent baby that suffered the worst fate of all, death. Similarly, Smith’s poem “What It’s Like to be a Black Girl” describes the feelings associated with being a “black girl,” in a time and/or place when being black was not accepted.

She describes what it is like to wish to be someone else. Patricia Smith takes her audience through various stages of the life of an African American female, dealing with the pressures of being black and going through puberty while dealing with those pressures. She writes, “It’s finding a space between your legs, a disturbance at your chest, and not knowing what to do with the whistles. ” She makes it clear that there is nothing glamorous about this time. “It’s growing tall and wearing a lot of white;” another line making it clear to the audience that the character in the poem is truggling to fit in somewhere.

In “What it’s Like to be a Black Girl,” Patricia Smith focuses on how hard it is to be someone on the outside of what is accepted. Racism is the theme in each of these literary pieces, however there are significant differences as well. Smith describes difficulties and situations that she may have personally experienced being an African American woman. On the contrary, Country Lovers author Nadine Gordimer is South African but with white skin; though they did not share the same skin color, both authors were directly affected by racism.

Both writers have dealt with the negativity that is racism, and chooses to write about it in a way that makes the reader think and feel what the characters are feeling. Throughout each of these pieces, the authors chose dissimilar flairs to catch the readers’ attention. For example, in Country Lovers, the author used an element of surprise during the climax of the story, “She thought she heard small grunts from the hut, the kind of infant grunts that indicates a full stomach, a deep sleep” (Clugston, 2010, pg. 3. 1 para. 22). It was a uncertain, up until this point, that Paulus would commit such a heinous crime.

Throughout the story, it was clear that interracial relationships were unacceptable, however the characters chose to engage in relations regardless of this “law”. The descriptions of the encounters between Paulus and Thebedi were positive. For example, Gordimer writes, “… she and the farmer’s son stayed together whole nights almost” (Clugston, 2010, pg. 3. 1, para. 8). With descriptions like this, one could get the feeling that Paulus might care for Thebedi and take some responsibility for his actions. There is little to describe any negative emotions between the two up until the horrible act of murdering an innocent child.

There is also no inclination that Paulus had any tendency toward violence, or that he would go to such extremes as murdering his own child to keep their relationship quiet. During the course of the reading, there were examples of kindness to contribute to the notion that Paulus had genuine feelings for Thebedi. For instance, the story reads: “When he was as far from his childhood as all this (being with females in a sexual way), he still brought home from a shop in town a red plastic belt and hoop earrings for the black girl, Thebedi” (Clugston, 2010, pg. 3. 1, para. ).

This gives one the impression that although Paulus has had his fair share of encounters with the opposite sex, he has a special place in his heart for Thebedi. Though society taught Paulus that interracial relations were unacceptable, he chose to overlook this with Thebedi. It was only when Paulus feared others would find out about relationship, that other motives came into play. This is where his true character was revealed. Like Gordemier’s short story, Smith’s poem, “What it’s like to be a black girl,” also used the element of surprise, but in a different way.

The author used strong forceful language and raw details to conjure up feelings of shock. This is demonstrated by the quote “It’s learning to say fuck with grace, and learning to fuck without it” (Clugston, 2010, pg. 12. 2, line 15). By using this type of language, the author was making a statement of harshness to produce a feeling in the reader. Critics laud Patricia Smith as “a testament to the power of words to change lives” (Sentinel and Enterprise); she is bold in her writing.

Gordimer and Smith have produced pieces in which image is portrayed vividly. An example, rich with creative imagery from Country Lovers would be the description of the kitchen. “The kitchen was its lively thoroughfare, with servants, food supplies, begging cats and dogs, pots boiling over, washing being damped for ironing, and the big deep freezer the missus had ordered from town bearing a crocheted mat and a vase of plastic irises. ” With this description, one can actually picture being in a very chaotic kitchen with activities going on all around.

Patricia Smith, throughout the poem, used imagery to make the audience feel like they were the woman in the story, dealing with this problem of not wanting to be African American on the outside and loving some aspects of it on the inside. There are strong descriptions in the poem; for instance, “it’s smelling blood in your breakfast” (Clugston, 2010, pg. 12. 2, line 14). As soon as the reader reads this, an instant image is created, and it is almost as if the smell of blood is in the air.

These ways of approaching the writing process carefully and in detail, have given the reader of the story and poem a clear picture of what has been described. The writing of both Nadine Gordimer and Patricia Smith have been considered under the theme of race. They chose different ways of portraying the this theme. Although they share the same idea, they also have many differences. This paper has discussed the content, style, and form of both “What It’s Like to be a Black Girl” and Country Lovers. It has provided a comparison and contrast of each of these literary pieces.

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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 10 January 2017

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