, Research Paper
Fear of Humiliation leads to conformity.
Fear of humiliation leads to conformity. People agree with others because they fear ridicule or being isolated from the crowd. They fear the idea of not being a part of the whole. They fear isolation or worse, being ostracized by the group. Most people usually have an innate desire to fit in with a group. Consequently, they follow others not because they comply with what the majority is doing, but because they want to be a part of the powerful majority; not the weaker minority. Still those that resolve not to conform still have to deal with the conflict of going against the majority.
Examples of this idea are in the short stories, “My Man Bovanne” by Toni Bambara; “Salvation” by Langston Hughes; and “Boys and Girls” by Alice Munro.
“In My Man Bovanne,” Toni Bambara recounts a story of how a woman, Hazel, overcomes the humiliation that people try to force on her. She resists the congruity of her community by dancing with and showing a blind man, Bovanne, a good time. The people in her community have conformed to the idea that the blind man is a vagrant. They once held Bovanne in high regard, but when he became blind, instead of them taking care of him they just started to ignore him. Thus, the people labeled her as an outcast because she chose to take care of him. Hazel does not worry about conformity and believes that people should just be themselves. In her eyes, the blind man is the same as he was before he became blind. Her family and the people in the community did not approve of her relationship with Bovanne. They jumped to conclusions and resolved that she had an underlying reason to care for him, other than just camaraderie. When challenged by her family she stands up for Bovanne, which shows courage on her part. It is one thing to just disregard humiliation and not conform, but to be affronted and still stand up for what she believed showed strength.
In the story “My Man Bovanne”, Hazel’s son Joe Lee says, The point is Mama. . .well it s pride. You embarrass yourself and us too dancin like that. (pg. 474, Bambara). That allegation coming from her son revealed his fear of being humiliated by his mom, and his hope that she would conform and be like everyone else. Hazel s other son Task goes on to say that the way that Hazel is dressing is inappropriate. They try to hurt her feelings and make her feel shame to get her to conform, but it does not work. Each time they verbally attack her with an insult on her appearance or actions, she stands tall and does not succumb to their wishes. Of the three stories I selected, this is the only where a person stands tall and does not conform under pressure.
In the story Salvation by Langston Hughes, Langston fears that everyone will think that he is the only person who has not seen Jesus. He conforms to everyone s expectations and then lets himself down by lying. The variance in Langston and Hazel s situation was that Hazel did not conform because she knew that there was nothing immoral with what she was doing. Langston conformed out of confusion and fear. Langston did not comprehend that people were not truly seeing God, but that they were perceiving him in themselves, in their hearts. Langston did not want to conform. He truly wanted to wait and see Jesus. After people cajoled him, he finally went ahead and lied. Similar to Hazel s children in My Man Bovanne, Langston conformed out of shame, as he says, Now it was getting really late. I began to be ashamed of myself holding everything up so long. (pg. 125, Hughes). Hazel s son Joe Lee had tried to get her to conform for the same purpose, shame.
The story Boys and Girls shows a different side of people conforming. Alice Munro tells a story of how people once appreciated that she worked around the farm with her father because she was older than her brother. Later, as she and her brother grew older that approval begins to change. People stopped regarding her as her father s helper, and more as a girl that gets in the way. This conformity comes from society s standards not from any inner shame, as in the previous stories. Instead of her family being proud that she was helping them, all they could do was anticipate when her brother, Laird, would be capable of working. The girl in the story at first tried to overlook what was beginning to happen around her. When her grandmother would scold her remarking how girls should behave, Alice confirmed that she still slammed the doors, and sat awkwardly reasoning that this kept her free. Like Hazel, she too, tries not to conform and just to be herself. Then in the end, she can no longer fight the desire to conform. In the end, when she sets the horse free, instead of her father scolding her as he normally would he just says She s only a girl. (pg. 993, Munro)
People conform for many reasons. The primary reason that people conform is fear, fear of being an outcast, fear of being different. In the preceding stories that I have talked about, people seemed to conform because they feared being chagrined or humiliated. In My Man Bovanne, Hazel doesn t fall into society s trap of conformity. She resolves that she is going to be herself, no matter what people allege. She makes it comprehensible that people are going to think what they want so why change yourself if they are not going to change. The last paragraph of the story shows this when Bovanne says that he imagines her to be a pretty woman. Hazel then says, “I surely am,” then to herself she thinks, I say just like the hussy my daughter always say I was. Even though she agrees with what her daughter has been saying, she still does not avoid Bovanne. Hazel still goes ahead and treats him the way that she believes that he deserves. In Salvation, Langston finds himself conforming and then disappointing himself. He did not want to lie about seeing Jesus, but he did not want the people of his church and his aunt to be disappointed. The girl in “Boys and Girls” is not so quick to conform. She tries to show people that she is still useful around the farm. Finally she decides to stop doing what they want and do things for herself. It is as if she finally said to herself, that if they were going to keep treating her as if she was a wimpy girl, that she would be one. In all of these stories, pressure from society is the main driving force behind them conforming. Just as peer pressure brings conformity, so does society s pressures and expectations.
Fear of humiliation brings conformity. Hazel s children feared being seen as outcasts in their society. They feared that their mother was going to humiliate them, therefore they wanted her to conform and be like the rest of the elderly people in the community. They wanted her to take off her wig and wear more conservative clothes, and above all leave Bovanne alone.
Langston feared being the only person not to see Jesus. He felt that everyone was waiting on him to see Jesus and they would wait all night. He feared that he would humiliate his Aunt and himself if he did not just lie and say that he had seen Jesus and was saved.
At first Alice Munro s character was accepted as her father s helper, but as her brother grew older he replaced her position. She finally conformed to her family s new expectations of her because she feared humiliating herself. She knew that eventually that people would begin to say more harsh things about her always wanting to help on the farm, and being a tomboy. Unlike Langston who conformed not to humiliate his Aunt, the girl conformed so not to humiliate herself.
Fear of humiliation brings conformity. All the people in the stories I analyzed were faced with the dilemma of choosing what they wanted to do, and what society wanted them so do. Langston and Alice Munro s character conformed. Hazel did not. Hazel was happy that she did not conform. Langston and Alice s character where not. So yes, fear of humiliation brings conformity, but does conformity bring disappointment?