Richard Wright in his story, Long Black Song, illustrates how a white phonograph sales representative seduces a black woman, Sarah. While her husband, Silas, a farmer, is off in the fields. On returning from duty, he discovers Sara’s infidelity, and this infuriates him.
It is a narrative told from Sara’s point of view, which serves as a reminder that her sexual abuse by white men on black women is condoned in white society. The revelation that, as Silas continues to gain on his property, he is losing on his wife. Ironically, his wife’s infidelity serves to the realization of what is, his most prized property leading him to swear to combat racism to the end.
In Like a Winding Sheet, by Ann Petry, the struggles of a poor, black couple living in “Ghetto” is rendered. In both stories, the black men illustrate anger in a form of violence on their wives, although their main source of anger is different. In Like a Winding Sheet, everyday routine of Johnson, a black male struggling with racism and social pressure, causes anger and frustration to build up inside him (Petry, 16).
Race and cultural superiority have contributed to a larger extend in shaping the aspect of gender identity in the two novels. Hence, a white believes, to assert more control and influence over the other races and gender. On the other hand, a black man embraces the mindset of being superior to the woman.
Wright and Petry, in an attempt to integrate the African American experience, values and their black background, their work is crafted in several thematic issues that recur in their writing. These include racism and intolerance, class, gender, violence, and sexuality intersects with social pressure. However, use of basic elements like the plot, characters, the mythic structure, and setting is similar in many ways there are differences in the way the two writers respond to issues of gender identity in their respective writings.
In Petry’s story Johnson, a black male, struggles with societal pressures and racism. Wright indicates the many challenges Silas is facing having to take up his family only to return and find his wife cheated on him with the white sales representative (36). Both highlight the class difference between the middle-class whites against the working class mainly composed of blacks.
Sexual assault is condoned on black women by the white men. Violence is a recurring problem as Silas in Wright’s story vows to die fighting against racism. Again, we see Johnson brutally beating his wife to death. Petry’s story illustrates the weakness of gender superiority complex and explores how the phenomenon sways the perception of gender identity in our society.
Their system is similar in that they begin with a happy tone in Like A Winding Sheet Johnson and his wife, Mae appearing happy as he tries to revive earlier than her “to surprise her by fixing breakfast”(Petry,1). Nevertheless, because he has been working for long hours, he goes back to sleep.
In the Long Black Song, it starts as Sara is singing a lullaby, which is a reminder of her former lover called Tom who she would probably have married had he not gone to war. As the plots progress, there is a build-up of conflict. The biggest conflict of racism and injustice in Long Black Song is when he is shoot by Silas shoots the white man as came to collect money for the gramophone.
In, Like Winding Street, Petry, portrays the effects of frustration and anger happening to black couple because of poverty. Similarly, Wright claims that black people are oppressed. Petry describes African-American women struggling with an oppressive white dominated society. Both showing how they take a leap of faith towards the end and confront these injustices.
Petry, being a realist, argues that although African American especially women were unjustly oppressed they nonetheless would survive. As an early feminist and visionary, she brought to her compelling fiction of her perspective of two worlds the middle class mostly made up of the white people and the working class of black people in the inner city. To her, black people can only work to redeem themselves.
Wright believes in the necessary commitment to black salvation on the tolerance of an already existing societal history. Nevertheless, the story also displays Wright’s intuitive belief in Black Nationalism. His black characters, through experience brought about by racist violence, makes them understand their identities as “outsiders”, hence brings about emotional attachment among the black community (Wright, 35).
While both authors give the true experience of any black American, religion and cultural impact, it is further emphasized in
Wright’s narrative as opposed to Petry’s. Petry’s links the early cultural association of blacks and whites with an early form of slavery lead by Europeans in Africa, and the modern issues such as women in the struggle for freedom.
Like a Winding Sheet has a great concern about the role of imagination on blacks as illustrated in Wright writings. Petry put herself in the mind of the characters (Petry, 59).
Wright is concerned with the definition of blackness, manhood, crisis, worth, and the sense of belonging impact black men’s understanding of emotional wellness. His assertion seems to concur with Saadawi and Hetata (76) as they argue that African Americans’ attitudes toward the emotional performances of black people is varied.
Gender equality is a social concern that recurs in many African American writings. Naturally, men are socialized to think about the importance of success, power, and competitiveness as seen in both Wright’s and Petry’s stories (Saadawi and Hetata 71).
In a society where too much pressure is exerted on them, and the struggle against racism, their anger is culminated in mixed emotions. Although Johnson, in Like a Winding Street, cares deeply for his wife, which is evident in a different part of the text as he struggles to ascertain his love against this pent up anger.
This is because; male socialization nature is hypothesized to illustrate feelings such as shame and anxiety related to women (Saadawi and Hetata, 84). We see this in Wright’s, Long Black Song where it is only until Sila’s wife infidelity that ironically brings to his realization that his main struggle is with the oppressive society in general (Wright, 39).
Although he physically assaults her, he is really in the process of trying to identify a balance with his anger against the white oppressors, aware of prescribed perspectives by society as a psychological defense. Both narratives show how when a man is confronted with problems he tends to depict stereotypical masculine gender role.
These authors both illustrates similarities and differences on how they portray the issue of gender identity in their work. The African American history, race, culture and experience have greatly influenced both the similarities and the differences in highlighting gender identity in the two stories.
Petry, Ann. Like The Winding Street. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1946
Saadawi, El Nawal and Hetata, Sherif. Women at Point Zero, London: Zed Books, 2007
Wright, Richard. Long Black Song. New York: Wiley pub, 1946