The words are on the wall or they’re in his head. These boys are restless. They can’t stay in bed because they know their rhymes won’t be affectless. He knows this baller life isn’t for him. He knows he can’t keep hustlin’ until 4 in the mornin’. They’re like J. W. Johnson with that free masonry – speaking up for those who are dyin’, showing those who refuse to see. Supporters call them messiah, Jehovah, but they accept the titles somewhat reluctantly. Two poets, two brains, two lives, two names: Gunnar from the Hillside in Cali and Shawn from the projects of Marcy. Gunnar Kaufman in Paul Beatty’s The White Boy Shuffle transforms as he moves to the mean streets of West Los Angeles. He finds his voice within his poetry, and his words move people to the point where they accept him as their messiah and are all willing to be martyrs to his words. Shawn Carter is born into a music loving family in the Marcy Projects of Brooklyn, New York. He sees a way to make his life better by hustling to bring in money for his single mom, but also discovers his voice in a poetry of his own – rap, and Shawn transforms into Jay-Z. In his memoir Decoded, Jay-Z shows what his art means to him and the influence he has had on communities close to and separate from him. Both Gunnar and Jay-Z rhyme as a form of art and expression to give the world a deeper look at their overlooked realities.
Beating, biting and battering don’t typically go hand-in-hand with love and affection. However, the central female love interests in William Attaway’s Blood on the Forge and Frank Norris’ McTeague are attracted by being physically overcome by their partners. Despite striking differences in both personality and sexual experience, Big Mat’s lover Anna and McTeague’s wife Trina share an unusual desire to be dominated. Anna hopes to move up from her peon life as a prostitute and find a big man to fulfill all her monetary desires. However, she finds out that her wants come at a hefty cost. Oppositely, asexual Trina does not know what she wants until she succumbs to the overpowering nature of McTeague, which eventually leads to her demise.
The road is its own unique space. It is open to everyone. Most importantly the road offers a break from reality. It allows people from all over to leave their everyday lives in search of something different or something better. Jack Kerouac’s characters in On the Road live their lives in constant forward motion. In some ways, his tale subverts the naturalist theme of environmental determinism. Big Slim Hazard turns his back on what life had planned for him by consciously deciding to be homeless. Dean Moriarty has a rough childhood and succumbs to environmental determinism by following in his criminal father’s footsteps, but uses the road as an escape from this fate. Sal Paradise has no determined destiny, and always returns to the road in search of something greater than what his everyday life offers.
Love comes in all shapes and sizes. It comes in all colors and all forms. Sometimes it is innocent and fresh, but other times it is controversial and dangerous. Sometimes love has no words – it is simply feelings, scents and tastes. Janie from Their Eyes Were Watching God learned the hard way just what love is and is not. Some critics argue that the novel is a love story. I do not disagree, but I believe that it is more a story of self-love and Janie’s journey to find inner happiness and how the men in her life challenged or encouraged her pursuit.
They fought. They fought for freedom of religion. They fought for power. They fought to become more integrated into White society. But while fighting those who oppressed them, they also began to fight their fellow oppressed. The antebellum era in which The Gangs of New York takes place was a violent, tumultuous period of time in which groups attempted to assert themselves through the illegal activities that made them infamous. Irish immigrants departed their homeland hoping to leave the famine and religious persecution that plagued them in Ireland. Unfortunately, they were not warmly embraced by Lady Liberty’s arms when they stepped off the ship. Instead of being assimilated into a land of opportunity, they were sucked into the underbelly of American society. They were instantly oppressed due to how they looked and the cultural differences that they brought with them. Consequently came a criminalization associated with not only the area they lived in, but also the poverty that they had no real way of getting out of. In turn, many immigrants became gangsters, trying to show their worth, trying to earn their way to “Whiteness.”