Monday, February 11, 2008

Blame Games

Despite his circumstances, Jake was almost impossible to sympathize with. Even though his life is rather static and limited by racism, he is not an unlucky man. Many people were suffering during the Depression, and yet he earns the not-so-meager salary of $2,100 per year. In a time when African-American southerners were suffering much more extremely, it is striking that Jake doesn’t appreciate his position as much as many others would.

Most of his problems were problems of perception or problems of his own creation. His job was unstable and he was in debt because he beat his wife. I guess I can understand his tendency to deflect self-criticism to some degree, but he completely exculpates himself from guilt through his self-delusion. This is demonstrated most clearly as Jake explodes with rage when his wife assigns the blame for her tumor to him. While Jake might have been correct that he was not to blame, his response is to blame his wife for her own problems. Jake is entirely caught up in his own head and refuses to sympathize with others. Despite his unfortunate background, it is difficult to rationalize such disregard for his own family. Wright makes it about as difficult as possible to sympathize with Jake. Jake doesn’t sympathize with anyone except himself, so it’s hard to return the favor.

I suppose that one central question posed by the novel is whether or not Jake is responsible for his actions or whether society formed his negative, selfish and indulgent personality. It seems clear that both factors contribute to his condition. While I already passed judgment on Jake, it would be pretty arrogant to assume that we know to what degree Jake is a product of his circumstances. It seems almost impossible to make such a judgment. My immediate reactions were intensely negative, as I’m sure every readers’ are. This dilemma raises the idea that all blame is ridiculous and entirely subjective. Blame seems to be a major stumbling block in the novel. Everyone is suspicious of one another, which allows them to get by without judging themselves. Possibly, Wright simply wanted to drive that point to the fore, hoping that a less accusatory society might be able to work through its difficulties.

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