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The Patriarchal Society

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The Patriarchal Society The basic structure of the so-called 'patriarchal' society places white males at the top of the pyramid and black males very near the bottom. Although remnants of this system still exist today, the hierarchy is not nearly as prevalent as it was during the time Richard Wright practiced his trade. In general, this system has an emasculating effect upon the African American male. He is made into less of a man because he has no authority and no one over which to exercise control. Richard Wright openly acknowledges and addresses the oppression of this system in the form of a standard motif: the black male is driven to commit acts of violence because the patriarchal system restricts any other means of control. These acts of violence are the most obvious ways that the black male can exercise control over his environment and create an identity for himself. Wright best expresses this motif in two of his works: the first is the novel Native Son, where Bigger Thomas is only able to gain an identity through the death of a white woman; the other is the short story The Man Who Was Almost a Man, wherein Dave is only able to take control of his own destiny after killing the mule of his employer and fleeing to escape the repercussions. It is quickly evident that Bigger is on the bottom rung of the social ladder. ...read more.


Guest described these individuals as "men willing to be executed as condemned murderers and rapists for the sake of a " 'sweet brief spell' of freedom and self-determination" (Guest p100). Native Son was Wright's first novel and it was his first work, with the possible exception of Uncle Tom's Children, to achieve a measure of commercial success and international fame. This fame allowed Richard Wright to express his message, his social commentary, that the American apartheid allows the black male few ways out of his oppressed conditions; many young African American males in this oppressive system feel that violence, an uprising, against the dominant social forces is the only avenue open to them. Many sociologists and philosophers including Karl Marx and Frederick Engels have touched upon this social theme of uprising: "The law, morality, religion, are for him so many [white] prejudices that hide just as many [white] interests... the [black male], the lowest stratum of present-day society, cannot lift itself up, cannot raise itself up, without flinging into the air the whole superstructure of social strata which form the establishment" (Marx and Engels p22). This theme is also well represented in another of Wright's works, The Man Who Was Almost a Man. The protagonist of The Man Who Was Almost a Man is Dave, the son of an illiterate sharecropper (much like Wright himself). Dave's main goal in this story is to acquire a firearm, a figurative manifestation of violence, so that he may be considered a man. ...read more.


When most people define what it is to be a man, they do not include the statement "owns a gun"; Dave has no conception of what it means to be a man and to have responsibilities. Living within a society dominated by Whites who assert control through force has shown Dave that the only way he can become a man is to own a tool which one uses to carry out acts of violence and prove that he has the power to control others: Dawahare put it slightly differently -- "In other words [black males in the patriarchal system] seek to compensate for their socially conditioned feelings of impotence through fantasies of omnipotence" (Dawahare p452). Within any society that does not adhere to strict egalitarian beliefs, vestiges of inequality will almost always be present. While the United States professes a belief in equality for all men, Wright believed that there was stratification or a pyramid that placed white males on the top and black men on the bottom. In this system, black males had few chances to advance themselves and little ability to show themselves to be individuals. Wright saw that impoverished African American individuals had few alternatives other than the use of violence with which to deny the system's power over themselves. Wright believed and showed in his literature that the use of force was the simplest way for an uneducated, young, black man constrained within the patriarchal system to rail against the fate that society had placed before him. ...read more.

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