Prejudice in Literature

Essay by shanniebushellHigh School, 11th gradeA, December 2014

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Prejudice in Literature

"Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present

inaccessible"­ Maya Angelou. Since the beginning of time, our world has had to deal with the

gruesome and cruel aspects of prejudice. Whether it's race, age, gender, sexuality, religion, or

physical features, people can always find something to discriminate against. In history, people

have come up with various ways to express their views on the different aspects of being

prejudice. Civil Rights Activist, Martin Luther King Jr., and Poet, Arna Bontemps, used

literature to share their opinions on the cruel feature that shapes our world to this day, prejudice.

Martin Luther King Jr. was a Baptist minister and social activist who played a key role in

the American civil rights movement from the mid­1950s until his assassination in 1968. Inspired

by advocates of nonviolence such as Mahatma Gandhi, King sought equality for African

Americans. He was the driving force behind events such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the

March on Washington, which helped bring about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting

Rights Act of 1965. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and has since forever been

remembered as a hero in our world. However, King's journey to reach his goal of equality wasn't


Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested and imprisoned many times for standing up for what

he believed in. During one of his imprisonments, he wrote "Letter from Birmingham Jail", which

has become a classic in support of civil disobedience. It was written in response to a published

letter that had been sent by eight local clergymen criticizing King's actions and labeling them as

"unwise" and "untimely". King wrote his letter defending his actions and standing up for his

people. As quoted in his letter, "Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon

pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear­drenched

communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will

shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty." King longed for an end to

prejudice and expressed his strong feelings towards the cause in his letter.

Arna Bontemps was an accomplished librarian, historian, editor, poet, critic, and novelist.

His diverse occupations were brought together by the common goal of forwarding a social

atmosphere in which African­American history, culture, and sense of self could flourish.

Bontemps' poems are marked by a concern for the values of dignity, a theme he treats in

conservative forms even as he expresses his rage in prejudice.

Arna Bontemps wrote various poems regarding the issues of prejudice. One of his most

famous poems of all time, "A Black Man Talks of Reaping", gives a brief description of the fear

involved in the African American life. The lines "I planted deep, within my heart the fear that

wind or fowl would take the grain away..." shows that the speaker has memories of fear

regarding his past, and he will never forget them. "Wind" and "fowl" have to be seen as symbols

for the continued oppression of the African Americans. This shows the awareness of the fact that

what was planted will easily be taken away by the whites. Therefore, we can see that all the

effort that was made by the African Americans wouldn't guarantee them any success or progress.

Bontemps escaped his troubles by expressing his feelings towards prejudice in his poems.

Even though the aspect of prejudice has slowly gotten better and vanished over time, it

still affects many people to this day. There's no escaping the hateful and cruel acts of prejudice.

However, standing up for yourself and expressing your opinions in nonviolent ways, such as

writing, will surely relieve people of the many dilemmas faced as a result of this cruel world.

Martin Luther King Jr. used his powerful writing skills in his letter to stand up for what he

believed in, in hope of bringing an end to the hateful prejudice he witnessed on a daily basis.

Arna Bontemps used his compelling poetry to express his feelings towards the violent world

filled with prejudice. "We must become bigger than we have been: more courageous, greater in

spirit, larger in outlook. We must become members of a new race, overcoming petty prejudice,

owing our ultimate allegiance not to nations but to our fellow men within the human

community." ­ Haile Selassie.