Dorothy West used her literature skills to prove to the African -Americans that they did not require to be physically armed to fight for their freedom but only change of societal attitudes between the blacks and the whites. To her the most important thing was cooperation amongst the blacks regard less of their classes in the society. She believed that if black people, whether affluence or poor, could team up and appreciate one another, they could easily fight for their legislative rights and change the attitude of the whites against them. Dorothy West was born in 1907 in Boston to Isaac and Rachel Benson. Though she was the only child in the family, she was able grow a social life in company of many relatives from her mother’s family. It should be noted that West’s mother was one of the 22 children in her family (Bader 22). West’s father, former slave, was a very ambitious man and he was able to become one of the richest black men in Boston. Therefore, Dorothy was one of the few black kids of the time who were able to live middle class life. Unlike most of the black children of the time, she was too able to attend prominent schools and acquire quality education.
Dorothy West’s career as a writer began when she was a small girl of seven years. At this tender age, Dorothy was able to win prizes as one of the best young writers of short stories. Her abilities were also recognized by her aunts as she mingled to chat with then. According to Dorothy, her aunt used to say Dorothy was more of a woman than a child. When she was 14 years old, her story, “Promise and fulfillment” won in the Boston weekly fiction contest. She then made writing her hobby and she was able to write more essays, short stories and even novels. Unlike most of the famous black writers of the time who concentrated on issues affected highlife people in the society, Dorothy addressed issues affecting poor black Americans, racism, and discrimination that black people experienced from the whites. This unique feature made her famous and she became one of the youngest of Harlem Renaissance writers. This paper highlights some of Dorothy’s writing and how they influenced American history in terms of societal attitudes and legislation (Bader 67-69).
In order to bring into light the true picture of Dorothy Amongst the black American writers of the time, several methods have been used to collect concrete information about her writings and how she was able to influence American governance and societal attitudes concerning the blacks. This involved thorough analysis of her major writings that are believed to target black people and their liberation. These include her famous literary works such as: The living is easy, The wedding, The richer, The poorer, The Dorothy West Martha’s Vineyard among others. Reviews by scholars of African- American literature were also analyzed in order to familiarize with what literature scholars felt about this writer and her works. Writing by other authors about Dorothy’s writings and her contributions to the African- American literature were also deeply analyzed during the research. Critics of Dorothy’s work were also studied in to capture both positive and negative remarks about her work (Fink 46). The history of the black Americans during the time Dorothy was also evaluated in order to march her themes with the problems common to the blacks. This was necessary to ensure that the writer was indeed familiar with the challenges of the time.
The research could not be complete without capturing views of modern scholars of American literature concerning Dorothy West. Students in this school were interviewed and the opinion recorded for analysis. Questionnaires were also developed for those who could not avail themselves for interview to submit their opinions about Dorothy’s writings. A debate amongst students of American literature was also conducted in order for supporters and critics of Dorothy’s work to defend their opinions. Lastly, a critical analysis was conducted in order to come up with the most accurate findings about this author and the impact of her work to the American society and governance (Fink 88).
“The Living is Easy” is a novel written by Dorothy West in 1948. The novel is believed to be a satirical representation of the black middle class in Boston. The novel basically addresses the life of middle class black Americans in Boston during the time of First World War. The book is centered on Cleo Jericho Judson who was born in the south and the oldest sister of several sisters. Judson is kind of a woman who creates weakness in others in order to gain superiority in the society. The novel is based on real life family members and their friends with her real mother and father as the fictionalized characters to represent Cleo and Bart respectively. Cleo is a devious self serving and a domineering woman who uses all means possible to live like the whites without considering the welfare of her fellow blacks. She even cheats her own husband on the value of a house in higher- class part of Boston and pockets the difference (West 88).
According to the critics of this book, its themes represent and examine the great black migration, feminism as portrayed who regardless of her racial and class denial is annoyed with the limitations and restrictions faced by American women, mother daughter relationship and relationship between sisters. She also addresses issues of gender whereby she represents Cleo as a “tragic heroine” amongst women. She is able to reject gender and racial challenges that faced many of the African- American women of the time. She denies herself any of the positive Human attributes associated with ordinary people. On the contrary, she decided to live world controlling her world instead of living in that world. As a result, this makes her a fragmented human being. During the end of the novel, West changes the tragic hroine Cleo and she is able to rebuild her life as a woman and human who has reached a new level of self realization beyond limiting binary gender definitions. This is normally facilitated by her ability to integrate positive masculine and feminine gender traits into her female body (Lynette 93).
Another famous writing by Dorothy is her second and last novel “The Wedding” which was published 47 years after her first novel. In this novel, West returns her readers to her still important issue of racism and color consciousness that she had explored during her previous writings. It is believed that West included sections from an unfinished manuscript titled “where the wild grapes grow”. In this novel, Shelby Cole is the youngest daughter of the prominent African American Cole family (West 36). Her family and other affluent friends are gathering to witness Shelby Cole wedding to a white jazz musician. The gathering is shocked why she had chosen to marry an ordinary poor musician. However, her parents seem revealed since she had chosen to hold the wedding in Martha’s Vineyard where the Ovalites, a group of high class people and rulers of the American society, could attend the festivity. Funny enough, the arrival of a more wealthy man in town called Lute makes Shelby to rethink her up coming wedding with her white suitor Meade (West 50).
Dorothy West is also known for her collection of stories in her fiction book The richer, The poorer. The collection reveals samples of her artistry skills all through her writing life. Dorothy uses characters from her own family names, people she had known, places had travelled and other real- life sources to represent to represent her themes and characters. This makes the book more acceptable to her readers who were familiar with her previous writings. Dorothy uses a collection of stories to represent African- American life with more concern on impoverishment, self development, prejudice and the desire of black American to fight for their freedom. She went farther to analyze both real and fiction human relationships especially between siblings and parent, husband and wife, surrogate parent, mother and daughter, father and son and that of family members and their friends. Dorothy did not forget to explore race, color and class differences among the African- American people, a feature that is common in her works. Generally most of the stories in this book highlight life experiences of a bred middle- class Boston woman who had the opportunity to access education and consequently live a middle class life. Dorothy used her skills in story writing to prove to readers of her work that sometimes the richer in means were actually poor in character and poor in terms of wealth were the ones richer in family relationships in terms of loyalty and love (Lynette 27).
Most of the stories in this book are set in Boston and addresses a wide range of events pertaining Dorothy’s career, her family experience and profile of Harlen renaissance writer Wallace Thurman who had made substantial contribution in African- American literature. The stories also present an overview of the history and social strata of Dorothy’s island home, Massachusetts, Martha’s Vineyard and Oak Bluffs. She tried to match her themes with the conflict between poverty and prosperity and the kind of relationship that existed between men and women, young and old on within the African American families. She used the title The richer, The poorer as the title for her collection of stories in order to show how a few blacks who ere privileged to afford high- class life neglect the unprivileged ones among themselves.
Analysis of the findings
It is no doubt that Dorothy West was targeting African- American readers in all her writings. Unlike most of her colleagues of the time, Dorothy’s intention was not entertainment but to empower blacks people psychologically on how to fight for their position in the American society. It should be noted that Dorothy was born during the time when racism and gender inequality was a common issue in the USA. Most of the states’ resources were owned by the whites who were the majority. They were the ones who made important decisions in the society. African – American were just freed slaves who had nothing for themselves. They normally relied on favors from the whites for survival. Consequently most of the blacks had no access to quality education unlike the white who made sure that their children had access to modern education from best schools in America and Europe. However, a few black families had the privilege to afford middle- class life. These groups were able to take their children to school and mingle comfortably with the whites. Dorothy West was one of the few black who had the opportunity to live affluent life courtesy of his father who had acquired immense wealthy from business involvements in Boston. (Lynette 61).
Wealthy black Americans of Dorothy’s era did not appreciate their fellow poor blacks. On the contrary, they aped the ways of the whites who believed that anything associated with the blacks was not worthwhile. Majority of the middle-class African- Americans denied the fact that they were still black regardless of their wealth. Dorothy was not happy with the situation and that why she concentrated in changing the societal attitudes and the American governance. Her core intention was to bring into light how the whites portrayed negative attitudes towards the blacks and how alienated wealthy blacks contributed in exploiting the poor ones in the society. She was also not happy with the form of governance in the USA and like other black activist of the time; Dorothy wanted to use her artistic skills to empower blacks to fight for their rights. She decided to use related themes in most of her works in order to emphasize her message to the blacks who by that time did not rely much on literature. This skill is witnessed in almost all her writings both in novels and short stories. Dorothy was aware that the black did not require physical weapons to fight for their rights. All that they needed was psychological awaken cooperation and concern of one another regardless of wealth based classes. According to Dorothy, time had come for the blacks to put down their class differences among themselves and fight for their rights as blacks and not as poor blacks and well up blacks. Dorothy wanted her black readers to realize that class and gender divisions amongst themselves were used as weaker points by the whites to exploit them (West 88).
Dorothy started writing influential materials while a small girl and by then she wasn’t famous. This made her work unpopular and uncompetitive among many writers of the time bearing in mind that African- American literature was not acceptable since it was considered political and with intentions of empowering black people. However, black writers gradually became famous and Dorothy West was not left out. One of the major issues addressed by Dorothy in her writings was racism and racial denial. She was opposed to the way white people treated the black ones on the bases of color and race. White people believed that African- American had no impact to the society other than being serving the white. They did no to believe that black people had right to education and other basic wants such as good housing and clothing. Dorothy used her skills in writing to empower black people to fight for their position in the society and abolish racial classes set by the white (Lynette 42).
Racial denial is another issue that Dorothy tried to address in her writing. Black Americans who were privileged to live middle- class life developed racial denial too. They denied the fact that they were blacks regardless of their wealthy status. Most of the wealthy black people during Dorothy’s era imitated the whites and never valued anything from their fellow poor blacks. This is clearly shown on Dorothy‘s first novel “The living is easy”. Cleo Jericho who is the main character in the novel does not associate with her fellow blacks simply because they were poor. She also influences her husband to rent her an expensive house in an estate believed to be for the whites. This makes the blacks to lack communion and ability to appreciate one another. Dorothy was able to communicate to her readers the importance of the blacks to support one another and not to imamate white man’s way of life (Thurman73).
Another common vice during the time of Dorothy was the tendency of the wealth class blacks to take advantage of the poor ones in order to meet their personal needs. In her novel “The living is easy” Dorothy uses characters that take advantages of others within the black American families to educate the society how such practices were not only unethical but contributed to the inability of the blacks to fight for their rights. This is because the exploited individuals developed hatred towards their fellow blacks (Lynette 67-69). With lack of good relationship amongst the blacks it was even easier for the whites to corrupt their reasoning so that they could rise against one another. This was important to the whites since they capitalized on their differences to benefit themselves. A good example of a situation where wealthy black Americans take advantage of their fellow blacks is highlighted in Dorothy’s novel “The living is good” where Cleo takes advantage of her poor sisters and their husbands in order acquire personal superiority. Through her writings, Dorothy was able to educate the black American society on the importance of being concerned about one another (Thurman 122).
Women were not considered important in the American society in terms of governance during the time of Dorothy. Women empowerment was yet a dream to come true especially to the poor black women who had no access to education. Throughout her writings Dorothy has portrayed a black woman successful and with immense influence to her society. Although some critics view this as a failure to follow the traditions of the people, Dorothy was able to change the attitude of her readers towards women as the weaker gender. Her writing influenced most of the political activists to fight for empowerment of women in the society (Lynette 96).
It is beyond any doubt that Dorothy actually had great influence to her readers due to her extraordinary writing skills. This was facilitated by her ability to use really people as characters in her fiction writing. She was able to gather pleasing ideas to her targeted readers who were mostly African Americans. He used really setting for her story, especially Boston where most of the blacks were living by then in order to make her ideas more really to the readers.
Majority of her followers and readers of her work believe that she is one of the famous female writers among the black American. This is basically attributed to her ability to address the issues affecting the poor blacks although she was from a wealthy and prominent family. Her writings enabled the African- American to realize the importance of working together and appreciating the facts that they were blacks. This acceptance enabled the black American to unite together and support one another as brothers and sister to fight for their rights. (Lynette 103).
The union enabled them to have their own representatives in the government to defend their rights. Empowerment of women amongst the blacks acquired support whereby women were able to access quality education and occupy leadership positions. The ability of the African- American to unity and appreciate one another made the whites to respect them and value them as equal human beings. Generally, there is no doubt that Dorothy writing had massive influence to the black American society attitudes towards one another and towards the whites.