Strain Theory Essay, Research Paper
Bigger Thomas, a young African American male, Twenty years old; vicious, vile and mean; he hates himself and all human society, especially that part of society which he attributes to making him a monster. Bigger Thomas is in rebellion on what he views as the white caste system; his crime is targeted at white society and the people that he views as being his oppressors. Bigger has the choice of taking on three roles, he can take on the role passivity designed for him by the southern whites and resolve his personal conflicts through the emotional catharsis of religion; or he can strive for and establish his own middle class society and thereby consciously or unconsciously become the white man’s accomplice in oppression; or he can reject the entire southern white ideology and assume the role of a criminal, which will inevitably erupt into physical violence.
Bigger is filled with anger, shame, frustration, guilt, hatred, and resentment. He feels that he is in a society that promotes the ideas of economic stability but produces no means of accomplishing those goals, or at least not in his community. Bigger then becomes a man with nothing to lose, he has no pride, no religion, no family and friends, nothing to look forward to. The ending result is bigger feeling useless in society.
Bigger feels trapped and in the book there were a number of symbolism’s that replicated his feelings about society, first there was that of the trapped rat, This rat was suppose to represent bigger and how he was a rodent in society. He was lost and eventually he would explode and become a hardened criminal, he felt that he was not given the opportunities he deemed necessary to become affluent and prosperous in a society that didn’t care for his existence. He felt marginal. Bigger felt the only work for him was menial positions that exploited the African American race, as cheap labor. He also thought that in order for him to become noticeable in society he would have to become someone with no limits, almost godlike. The only way for him to enact this image was to have control over his life and the life of others, and that’s what induced him into a life of crime and murder. He was inevitably going to become a criminal, he was young, poor, and felt trapped in a society that was not concerned with his best interests. A man with nothing to lose or so it seemed, was ready to go out into the streets of Chicago and claim the lives of those who interfered with his existence as a decent human being. Crimes of hate, crimes of passion, crimes of economic gain, crimes of retribution, crimes of reciprocity, or just crimes of notoriety, were the positions that Bigger Thomas were left to define. He sought to fulfill the dreamlike fantasy of being on top of the economic ladder, and overcoming the status that his fate had entailed.
The American dream, crazily sought after, rarely achieved, is what some theorist may say. People of the lower class or should I say of all socioeconomic classes have this preconceived notion that the American Dream is attainable if you just work hard and believe in the system. However, the strain and anomie theories prove otherwise. People of all different background share this eager desire to obtain the status of the economically elite, but for some it is considered impossible. In the societal class system it is hard for those in the lower classes to actually seek out and reach their goal, or attain the little piece of the American dream. The dream that is instilled in the ideologies of the vast majority of Americans, he ideology that keeps adults and children alike, to keep pushing and striving to get more and more. The strain theory recognizes the position we are in and explains why some people aren’t capable of reaching that golden American dream. The dreams are jammed in the heads of so many Americans, but they lack the means of attaining them successfully or legally. As an ending resort they are deterred to a life of crime, a life that they feel will help them cross the barriers of economic oppression. Elements of strain include Poverty, Maintenance of conventional rules and norms, strain, formation of gangs and groups, crime and delinquency criminal careers. One manifestation of strain is the ideology of traditional values, norms and folkways. People of all classes are compelled to reach the highest level of affluence possible, but after they reach a certain position it turns into a glass ceiling. The strain theory suggests, that people are detained from reaching their goal by some uncontrollable circumstance. Strain theory can be directly associated with the frustration and anger engulfed in the lower class, paradoxically some members of the upper class feel strain also if they feel like they are being held back from attaining certain goals.
Strain theory is very complex, and has rooted the classical notions of anomie theory, they are very much interchangeable within these theories they leave room for people to try and overcome their detrimental effects. These maneuvers are classified as social adaptations. The five adaptations are as follows: conformity-the goals and the means exist simultaneously, innovation- goals are present but the legitimate way to attain those goals are non-existent, ritualism- goals are lowered and means are elevated, retreatism- rejects the goals and means of society, rebellion- using alternative set of goals and means. The strain theory consists of various organizational factors, mainly those dealing with socioeconomic status. Indigent people are forced into alternative methods for survival, therefore disrupting the norms of society. That’s when threads of the anomie theory come into to play, people deviate from the norms and are forced into avenues that they wouldn’t normally engage in if the means were readily attainable. U.S society stresses the goals of acquiring wealth success and power. The strain theory can almost be characterized as a contemporary caste system. The elite are bound to a systematic condition of superiority were the lower classes are bound to a society in which their avenues to resources are limited. In this cycle anomic conditions are inevitable for those people who are at the bottom of the social ladder, therefore they continue the cycle of crime and criminal activity. The alternative is then solutions to the problems of disparity and that causes criminals to emerge wide spread and validates the whole theory of strain and anomie.
Bigger Thomas was a poor impressionable young man who fought to attain the standings in middle class society. Prevented by society, or so he thought, from reaching his full potential as a successful man. Being black was no picnic and Bigger was very resentful of the “white” people of all different classes. Bigger was in search of power, domination and authority, elements that he felt as a man he should be able to posses but because he was poor and black he lacked all of the above. In Bigger’s fight for notoriety, power, and socioeconomic status he was forced time and time again to resort to what he felt would help him overcome the strain that society had infringed on him. Bigger did not want to be the servant, a job that only had room for black people, he did not want to be the busboy. Bigger wanted to be the owner, the manager, the overseer, but due to social stratification he was not allowed to participate in any events that would promote his status, thus making Bigger one of society’s greatest problems, young, energetic, ambitious, innovative, and more importantly strained with nothing to lose except the shackles he felt society kept him in for far to long.
Bigger eventually comes to the conclusion that he will be satisfied, even if it meant going outside of the norms of society. He would prove to the world that he could be in control of some aspect of society. Through various channels Bigger eventually acts out on his hunger to feel life as he had never felt it before, the only way for him to do that was by engaging in anomic or normalessness situations.
Bigger was presented with many opportunities for progress. As a servant for the Dalton’s he was surely moving up the economic ladder, at least one that many other black men didn’t have the chance to climb. Bigger was now working in one of the prominent houses in the city. This however was a failure to Bigger he felt that he was only good enough to work in the home of a white man, the man who in fact Bigger attributed to his failure. As a result Bigger starts to change and engages in more than one social adaptation while in the process of becoming a menace to society. Throughout Bigger’s life he was forced in situations were he was left feeling powerless and cast out of society. He tries to conform when he worked for the Dalton’s he wanted to move higher up on the social ladder and by him having a job he felt that this would help him better his chances. Bigger was trying to integrate into society and become a “civilized” individual, according to Merton he was conforming, or using the adaptation of conformity. Bigger thought that becoming the driver in the residence of the Dalton’s would help him, he wanted a legitimate way to gain capital and to eventually become a part of the society in which he seen in movies and shows, the society which demonstrated the American Dream. However this was impossible for Bigger, after all living in an impoverished neighborhood he would never be introduced to the society in which he dreamed about. He was held back by a society that viewed his progress as a regression in the white world, therefore he would eternally be doomed to the socially disorganized ghetto, he and so many other like him.
After Bigger tries to conform he eventually notices that he will be unable to enter society as a respectable man so he tries and enters in other ways. While Bigger was trying to conform he eventually realized that he would be in a menial position for the majority of his life. That was not an option for Bigger and he would not except it. Bigger engages in the act of murder, he concisely or unconcisely smothered Mary Dalton to death. Bigger viewed this murder as a symbol of his power in society. In Merton’s terms the murder would be an act of ritualism. This symbolized that Bigger could have some effect on society his existence was not marginal, at least Bigger viewed it in this light. Although, the crimes for ritualism usually are
attributed to religious, fraternal, or feudal societies Bigger took ritualism to another level this was his way of controlling the society at large. This was the way for him to be his own man and Bigger not only murders once but he murders a number of times. Bigger was sacrificing lives in order to feel like a person in society.
After Bigger goes on this killing spree he than tries to flee, he engages in the social adaptation of retreatism he wants to get away from the society that made him become a ritualist/killer. He is an outcast trying to get away from the bonds of oppression and the cycle of regression for the African American race. Bigger desperately needs to get away from society and his only way of doing that is to go in a shell where no one can get to him mentally, Bigger unable to physically retreat from society has psychologically went into a retreatist state and in turn eventually turns rebellious.
Bigger inevitably turns rebellious, he has finally denounced he existence in society and becomes a revolutionist. He had always felt that black people needed to fight for change and bigger neutralized his murders by implying that he had no other choice in society he had been reduced to murder. He was rebellious because he suspected that white society had always been aware of the oppression of blacks but had done nothing to try and relieve the oppression. He felt it was up to him to challenge the social structure he was in retreatism and rebellionism simultaneously.
Bigger was not a rare case, especially in the disorganized ghettoes of Chicago. He fought endlessly to attain success, after no reward he found that he had no where to turn besides a life of crime. Yes, Bigger had killed Mary Dalton, and his long time girlfriend; however, society had created social constructs that Bigger could no longer be governed by. His only retaliation was to go outside the sphere of humanity and reclaim the impunity that he thought was rightfully his, even if it meant murder. Murder was his expression of justice. Bigger like many others living in the urban ghettos was bound to be executed, by the privileged society. Although, Bigger’s acts of murder were not excusable, society should have reevaluated he actions and viewed them as cries for help. He could have been used to help the problem instead of being executed like a animal, an animal that was trapped from the very beginning. Bigger went from, conformity, ritualism, retreatism, and finally rebellion. When society has a problem they always look at the individual rather than constructs of society. Like in Bigger’s case execution was more hurtful than helpful, and the cycle that stems from strain continues.