Black Like Me Essay Research Paper Black

Black Like Me Essay, Research Paper

Black Like Me was first published in November of 1961. It was

originally written as an article describing the rise in suicide

tendency among Southern Negroes. John Howard Griffin

assumed that “it would be an obscure work, of interest

primarily to sociologists.” Historically, Griffin was the first

white person to experience certain issues known only to black

people. By simply darkening his pigment, he encountered a

complex reality formerly unknown to him or any other white

person. Black Like Me was written as a journal, a portrayal of

Griffin’s life as he experienced it as a black man. It was not

meant to have symbolism or themes, however, it is important

to evaluate the book as a fiction novel. This allows the reader

to determine its symbolism and recognize its themes. It was

assumed that if this book was intended to be read as a story,

isolation would be the symbolic theme. In the following quote,

Griffin has completed the process of darkening his skin and

sees himself in the mirror for the first time as a black man.

“The transformation was total and shocking. I had expected to

see myself disguised, but this was something else. I was

imprisoned in the flesh of an utter stranger, an unsympathetic

one with whom I felt no kinship. All traces of the John Griffin I

had been were wiped from existence. Even the senses

underwent a change so profound it filled me with distress. I

looked into the mirror and saw nothing of the white John

Griffin’s past.” (pgs.15-16) The theme of isolation is first

discovered in this quote. Griffin feels imprisoned in a body

other than his own. He does not like the person he sees

before him and feels that the figure he sees in the mirror has

no relationship with the mind and soul inside. The next quote

describes the separation Griffin feels from his own body. He

feels that he is sharing his body with a stranger, someone he

feels no connection with. “The completeness of this

transformation appalled me. It was unlike anything I had

imagined. I became two men, the observing one and the one

who panicked, who felt Negroid even to the depths of my

entrails. I felt the beginnings of great loneliness, not because I

was a Negro but because the man I had been, the self I knew,

was hidden in the flesh of another.” (pg. 16) Not only does

Griffin feel isolated from his black body, but when he returns

to his original skin tone, he feels separated from that body

and life also. After he had experienced such prejudice and

bigotry, he found it hard to return to his original self. “I felt

strangely sad to leave the world of the Negro after having

shared it so long–almost as though I were fleeing my share of

his pain and heartache.” (pg. 143) In the next quote, Griffin

asks how people can be so cruel when there are so many

things to love and care about in the world. “I felt their arms

around my neck, their hugs and the marvelous jubilation of

reunion. And in the midst of it, the picture of the prejudice and

bigotry from which I had just come flashed into my mind, and I

heard myself mutter: ‘My God, how can men do it when there

are things like this in the world?’ ” (pg.144) Griffin was a white

man with a good job, a family, and a home. Nevertheless, he

still felt isolated after his experience as a black man and in

some ways he still felt connected to the black John Griffin. He

had experienced something never before experienced by any

white person. It was something he could only share with

himself. Only he knew what it was like “when a so-called

first-class citizen is cast on to the junk heap of second-class



black like me


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