Who Are the Americans?
(And How are they Supposed to Behave?)
Richard Wright, author and main character of Black Boy wrote about his ongoing struggle to figure out the unanswerable question of why. His questions of why stemmed mainly around why people had to conform and act a certain way for certain people (more specifically why black people or Negroes had to operate in a certain manner in the presence of whites).
Wright had a never-ending list of queries about how Negro Americans should or should not be. However, as close as he would come to obtaining an answer to his questions, the more impossible it seemed to achieve. He made a statement in his writing about how confused he felt about his place in this world, not only as a Negro, but also as an American.
On his quest to find understanding of where he belonged, Wright suffered a host of shattered “American” dreams that revolved around his struggle to find his place. His dreams were those which many Americans today take for granted such as some food on the table and the security of a decent roof over their heads. Whereas in the world today, people place their aspirations a few plateaus higher, where they now have caviar dreams and mansions fantasies to prove they have “big” dreams.
This is proven when a story such as Black Boy is compared to that of the Great Gatsby where Jay Gatsby was a poor struggling man like Richard Wright who instead of aiming for happiness and piece of mind, set his goals much higher in the effort to achieve the mansion and the caviar. However, unlike Wright, Gatsby had outward motivations which were not centered around himself but rather around the woman he hoped to gain by reaching this level of affluence.
In many ways, one could say that Gatsby acted in a manner comparable to the way many would have expected Wright to have behaved as an African-American whereas he conformed while Wright instead constantly questioned and sometimes challenged conformity. Was it right for him to challenge conformity? As an African-American, I would say yes, because without someone adding a beginning to change, there would definitely have been no endings to such things as whites only signs and segregated schooling. Although these issues are a little off the topic, they are relevant because these are the types of issues that Wright was struggling to understand.
Moreover, I believe the “Americans” are those who have to conform to someone or something, and the way they are supposed to behave is to constantly resent conformity. In other words, people strive everyday to become leaders or facilitators, therefore making them the boss of something where someone would then have to conform to their set of rules. In a sense, it could be looked at as though people are happiest when someone is less happy.