"Shame" by Dick Gregory.

Essay by georgemytelkaCollege, UndergraduateA, May 2003

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The short story "Shame" by Dick Gregory, clearly shows that poverty brings many hardships as well as a great deal of shame. However, there are still ways to gain pride and happiness. This story shows that by emulating somebody you respect, even a very poor person can derive pride from small actions, which the average person sees as insignificant.

In "Shame" Richard is a poor boy without a father, living in the ghetto. However, there is a girl at school named Helene, that he is in love with. Unlike Richard, Helene is well off, wears clean clothes, and is very smart in school. Richard tries very hard to be like Helene. He melts the ice water from the grocery so he should be able to wash his clothes for the next day of school. The only reason he goes to school is for her. Everyone else condemns his behavior.

Nobody understands that the reason why he doesn't function like everyone else was because when he gets up in the morning he doesn't have breakfast. Nobody realizes that he is just another boy who wants to be recognized and seen as just a normal kid like everyone else. They don't comprehend how hard he is trying to accomplish that. While everybody else is having fun after school, he is shining shoes just to get a little change so he could get by. When the day comes that the kids pledge their fathers' money to the Community Chest, naturally Richard wants to match Helene's pledge. However, when Richard gets up to match Helene's amount, the teacher becomes upset at Richard. She said, firstly, that the money is for "him and his kind," and therefore, if he is able to give, he has no reason to be receiving relief. Secondly, she said that he didn't even have a daddy.

The story shows many different aspects in which poor people suffer, and also many things that they may derive pride from that we don't understand. It also shows that the emotions that they show and actions that they do, regardless of how weird or unimportant they seem, may provide great relief and happiness to a poor person.

Initially, the story talks about how Richard likes Helene because she is "clean." It then goes on to state the many things that he does to make sure he looks clean. He does these things because they give him "pride" in the fact that he is like her in these aspects. It says, "I brushed my hair, and even got myself a little old handkerchief," so that he wouldn't have to wipe his nose on his hand. Another example is, "I washed my socks and shirt every night." He'd go to "Mister Ben's grocery store," and scoop ice from the machine. He would then wait for it to melt so he could wash his clothes. He'd put them on in the morning "wet or dry." He did all this so that he could have clean clothes, just like Helene. This was his pride and it satisfied him. We see how he wanted to emulate her when he says "Everybody's got a Helene Tucker, a symbol everything you want. I loved her for her goodness, her cleanness, and her popularity."

The story's climax involves the Community Chest which the fathers of the kids in the class would pledge money for the poor. Richard knew that Helene would give money and he wanted to be able to match it. He would use the money that he worked hard for after school, when all the other kids were playing. However, when he pledged six times the amount of Helene, the teacher got very mad. First she said "We are collecting this money for you and your kind. . . . If your Daddy can give fifteen dollars you have no business being on relief." Then she said "And furthermore we know you don't have a daddy." Richard was just trying to be like everyone else, and use his hard earned money to get himself a little pride. However nobody understands this and they see it as being something wrong, and because of it he feels great shame and leaves school. Nevertheless we see his good intentions when he tries to help out a wino that was getting beaten because he didn't pay at a restaurant.

These are just a few examples of how poor people can get pride and happiness from small actions that we don't understand. Also, we see how they can sometimes be misunderstood when they do these actions. In general, we should try to be more yielding and considerate of such people. We should see ourselves in these situations and try to understand.