Personal and the Literary in American Literature Term Paper

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Blurring the Gap Between Fiction and Real Life

This is a paper that outlines how modern literature integrates personal experiences of the writers into works of fiction. It has 5 sources.

It is quite interesting to note the means by which eminent writers attract attention to their ideas and literary content. On closer examination, we may come to the conclusion that the means by which public attention may be grabbed has followed a definite pattern through the years. While writers like Shakespeare and his contemporaries used fiction to project their literary geniuses, modern day writers strive to catch the attention of the masses by presenting their own personal conflicts and tragedies to the public. The modern writer has lessened the gap between a literary piece of work and real life. However, literature in the classical period is known for its often unnatural and over-dramatized perspectives on life. Today, the stories present real life situations without the use of fantasy and fiction. Many critics believe that the merging of life and fiction in modern literature could have been encouraged by modern social qualities like freedom lack of restraint and boldness, which is accepted to be the essential qualities of a writer. Hence, it is not difficult to deduce that literature through the years has evolved to reflect the qualities of the society, which may undergo changes from time to time.


It would be worthwhile to enquire into the reasons that compel modern literature to depend on the personal experiences of a person. In fact, it would be only appropriate to ask as to what makes literature click, if it tries to honestly reflect life and its intricacies. It would not be wrong to say that the attraction of literature is attributed to its quality of being different from life. This 'shock value' is an important aspect of the literary world and it is this 'expectation of the unexpected' that has kept readers interested. In this regard, it may be observed that conservative authors are less popular than controversial ones, who do not mind to shock the society and its underlying values. The same shock value and inquisitiveness is also a very strong ingredient in personal stories, which has always attracted the attention of readers worldwide. It must also be acknowledged that the more a story reflects the personal experiences of a person, the more inquisitive people are to read it. Another important factor that needs to be considered here is the fact that authors do not mind to lay bare their private lives in their stories. For many readers, the 'thrill' of reading someone's personal experiences is a delectable experience. Others, to whom grim life situations are alien, enjoy such stories for the unique perspectives that it provides to the readers.

This paper will examines "Black Boy" and "The Glass Menagerie" in different perspectives

American identity and ideas

In 'Black boy' (1998), author Richard Wright gives a non-fictional account of his life in the black neighborhoods of America. All elements of the Southern Black settlements like the ghettos, the squalid living conditions, the lack of an identity etc. have been very clearly mentioned as part of the story of the central protagonist who is in fact the author himself. Wright actually emphasizes the identity crisis of young Richard who passionately feels about his isolation in a society that seems to be made only for the white man. Soon Richard rebels in his own small ways against authority, which is despised by him. It does not matter to him whether he rebels against his father or his white masters as long as his ego prompts him to fight against authority. Richard is a perfect example of how identity crisis encourages rebel ideas in a boy.

This was the culture from which I sprang. This was the terror from which I fled." [Wright, Chapter 14, p. 257]

His attraction towards communism and his penchant for living by hook or crook points to the conditioning that the white society induces on young blacks. The final realization that the country can provide opportunities to people like him, if they work for it, is a positive aspect of the story.

Tennessee Williams in The Glass Menagerie (1999) expresses American identity in a different manner. His stories are noted for their violent content. It seems that violence, which had been a very important feature in his life, has been used by Williams to express different situations in his life. We get a feeling that Williams depicts violence as an essential American quality: a quality that urges one to live and fight against all odds. Emotional and physical violence are everyday aspects of life according to Williams. The tough world that Tom has to face is also a metaphor of the toughness of the American society, especially to those whose resources are very meager.

Williams also highlights the spirit of adventure that prompts Tom to explore his world. Ironically, it is this spirit of adventure that has prompted his father to abandon his family "a long distance man who fell in love with long distances" [Williams, Part 1, Scene 1, pg. 5]. Perhaps Williams is trying to say that adventure is not stymied by past experiences which could have proved to be disastrous to the solidarity of the family. In fact Tom is attracted to his father's ways and does not want to be restricted within a family.

Personal identity and experiences

In Black boy (1998) Richard is always tormented by the fact that he is a black and the discrimination against him and his family is too much for him to bear. The fact that he is beaten and abused right from his early days is something that transforms the young child into a hardened rebel who views life in a disenchanted manner. Richard soon learns that there is nothing like human rights for blacks and that they are considered at par with animals. "I never saw a dog bite that could really hurt a nigger," [Wright, Chapter 7, p. 163]

The fact that he belongs to a black community often prompts Richard to take refuge in counter- discriminating the Jews, which seems to give him some solace. We can see the string of emotional and psychological factors that compel the young man to react violently to the rigors imposed by society on him. Hunger is a very important theme in the story and we see that hunger always keeps company with Richard and makes him do queer things in life, which he would not normally do if not driven by hunger [Ward, 2004] Wright also uses imagery and physical examples in life to highlight between the black and white aspects in his life "Color hate defined the place of black life as below that of white life," [Wright, Chapter 15, p. 266]

Williams in The Glass Menagerie (1999) gives us an account of his own life in which the author had to cope up with similar situations that Tom in the story has had to undergo. Tom wants to be free and feels restricted by his mother and sister for whom he is responsible. Perhaps Williams is trying to highlight the difficulties that a man comes to experience because of responsibilities that are forced on him. Tom is always in search of an escape route, one that would provide him with his freedom and which would enable his escape from the apartment that is dominated by his mother's ranting and his sister's sickening sensitiveness.

Every time you come in yelling that Goddamn 'Rise and Shine! Rise and Shine!' I say to myself, 'How lucky dead people are!' But I get up. I go! For sixty-five dollars a month I give up all that I dream of doing and being ever! And you say self -- self's all I ever think of. Why, listen, if self is what I though of, Mother, I'd be where he is -- GONE!" [William, Part 2, Scene 3, p. 23]

However, there is enough evidence in the story to suggest that Tom feels remorse for his irresponsible actions which saw him abandoning his sister and his mother when he should have supported them. In fact, the uneasiness that he feels every time he remembers his sister could be interpreted as the price that one has to pay for realizing one's dreams [Rasky, 1986]

Conclusion on Literature as an art form

The Black Boy is in fact a superb piece of art, which highlights the travails of a discriminated young black boy. However, the art in the literary piece comes not from the story as such because it is a non-fictional treatment of the writer's life. What however expresses as art in the literary piece is the underlying flow of emotions that the author exposes for the readers to feel and appreciate. The story is not just an account of the life of a black boy. In fact the way in which the story is written, makes one identify…

Sources Used in Document:


Wright, Richard A., Black Boy, Perennial, September 1, 1998

Williams, Tennessee. The Glass Menagerie, New Directions Publishing; June 1999

Ward, Jerry, M. "Richard Wright-Black Boy," retrieved at On April 2, 2004

King Thomas, L. Irony and distance in the Glass Menagerie in Tennessee Williams. Ed. Harold Bloom, New York: Chelsea house, 1987, 85-94

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