Henry L. Gates, Jr. s In the Kitchen presents how the author deals with the contradiction between pride in one s own background and desired assimilation into the mainstream society. Gates primarily underscores the complicated experience that many African Americans undergo through his display of hair. Consequently, the two opposing issues of blending in with society and showing a sense of pride come together in his response to the struggle between making similar and reminiscing about his childhood when he hears Nat King Cole sing on the radio. Gates urges his audience to understand his experience by making a vivid imagery of the hair investigations and his recount of Nat King Cole.
Gates symbolizes the kitchen as his own culture background. He begins longing for the process of resembling to the society when he observes his mother and relatives straightening their hair in the kitchen. He emphasizes the significance of hairstyles in his childhood and adolescence. Having hair straight is extremely important for African American as a status symbol. The kitchen was permanent, irredeemable, irresistible kink (57). He implies that one should accept one s identity, because no matter how the kinky hair may be wavy, it will never be straightened in his mind.
Gates uses the investigations of straightening hair to show the pride and how he makes himself resembling to the mainstream society. Gates confesses that he had
spent most of my childhood and adolescence messing with my hair (59). By social opinion, Gates tries to straighten his hair because he wants to be part of the organized group with good hair, which is referred to a white person s straight hair. His community influences his effort of trying to make his hair wavy and incorporate into the society. He intensively tries to become alike to the society by the hair investigations because his family and community are dealing with the same situation of assimilation. But to Gates thinks having good hair is to make hair look wavy instead of straight hair. He expresses his pride by never straightening his hair. Furthermore, he puts various kinds of pomades in it to make his hair appear more naturally wavy. The fact that he never straightens his hair shows his self-respect of his original quality of kinky hair. Moreover, he doesn t want to wipe out his identity and his cultural background to be blend in with the society. He always wants to keep his identity as an African American.
Not only does Gates demonstrate assimilation and pride by investigating hair, but he also demonstrates them from the influence of Nat King Cole. Gates s reaction upon hearing the singing from Nat King Cole comes from the two issues of the desire of the process of absorbing into the prevailing culture and the sense of his proper dignity of his culture. He admires the successful Nat King Cole, namely, his demeanor, his name, his style (62). Gates perceives how Cole establishes in the society by expressing his own cultural style instead of trying to be similar to white people. When Gates hears the singing from Nat King Cole, he suddenly responds with the struggling of assimilation and the sense of nostalgia of his childhood. Recalling the extreme privation of his hair investigations in his childhood and adolescence, he realizes that one doesn t have to
adjust to anything to become alike to the society. Meanwhile, the incident of hearing from Nat King Cole reminds him of the pride that he always has in his mind through his life. Recollecting that he never straightens his hair when straightening hair is widespread for African Americans, he always has his own stoically value that belongs to him even though he uses pomade to make his hair wavy. Gradually, he managed, barely, to blink back the tears (63). If the incident never happens, Gates would never comprehend the existing fact that one doesn t need to make any effort in order to take oneself in to the mainstream society.
Gates s use of two different issues regarding assimilation and pride help his purpose to mold the audience s mind in a certain direction with his thoughts of keeping his identity and the influence of Nat King Cole. Relating his careful yet precise descriptions, he influences his readers by having them empathize with his personal experience. If Gates happened to react to the situation of Nat King Cole in different ways than he had and not to highlight the importance of good hair or bad hair, the audience would probably interpret the essay differently because the author conveyed another message through the different reactions. And because Gates effectively illustrated the feelings and actions of his, the reader cannot help but agree that this was not just the normal lifestyle of another growing boy, who chose to hide no secrets from the outside world.