Discrimination and Racism in Country Lovers and the Welcome Table
Discrimination and Racism in Country Lovers and the Welcome Table Racial discrimination has affected black people of the United States as well as Africa for many years. Although racial discrimination is against the law in both countries today, many people believe that it still exists. This essay will compare and contrast the racial theme of the short stories “Country Lovers” written by Nadine Gordimer and “The Welcome Table” written by Alice Walker. Both of these short stories share the same theme, which is centered on racism, but the theme is not limited to racism it also includes love, hardship, rejection, and death.
They have many similarities as well as differences that will be explored in this essay. Both of these literary pieces give the reader awareness of the pain and suffering endured by the two black characters that were subject to racial discrimination and the superior mentality of those that participated in the discrimination. Discrimination and racism is the core issue in both of these short stories. A similarity of both short stories is that the narrator reveals the characters through observation which means both stories are told in the third-person omniscient point of view.
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For example, in “The Welcome Table”, the old woman stood with eyes uplifted in her Sunday–go–to–meeting clothes: high shoes polished about the tops and toes, a long rusty dress adorned with an old corsage, long withered, and the remnants of an elegant silk scarf as head rag stained with grease from the many oily pigtails underneath. Perhaps she had known suffering. There was a dazed and sleepy look in her aged blue–brown eyes. And in “Country Lovers”, the farmer’s son was home for the holidays she wandered far from the kraal and her companions. He went for walks alone. They had not arranged this; it was an urge each followed independently.
He knew it was she, from a long way off. She knew that his dog would not bark at her. Down at the dried–up–river bed where five or six years ago the children had caught a leguaan one great day—a creature that combined ideally the size and ferocious aspect of the crocodile with the harmlessness of the lizard—they squatted side by side on the earth bank. Since both stories are written in third-person omniscient point of view the reader is able to us their imagination to escape the setting of both stories, which enables them to identify with the characters in the stories.
Both of these literary pieces are similar because the tone sets the stage for racial discrimination in both stories. According to Walker, (2003) The old lady in “The Welcome Table” sings a spiritual song “I’m going to sit at the Welcome table Shout my troubles over Walk and talk with Jesus Tell God how you treat me One of these days”! This song enhances the reader awareness to acknowledge that the old lady knew she had been mistreated for many years and she longed for the opportunity to tell God how much the white people had mistreated her on earth.
In the story “Country Lovers” the author writes, “The farm children play together when they are small, but once the white children go away to school they soon don’t play together any more, even in the holidays”. This quote directly exposes racism because while the children are small their innocence has not yet been exposed to the differences between the two cultures and as they grow older, interaction between the two is forbidden.
The racism in this story is subtle; nevertheless, as the children grow older, they are not allowed to interact with each other because their society believed that as young adult it was inappropriate to maintain any type of relationship. In the story “The Welcome Table” the usher tried to stop the old black woman in the vestibule before entering the sanctuary because he knew that the white members would not welcome the old black woman at the church, the author states, “The reverend of the church stopped her pleasantly as she stepped into the vestibule.
Did he say, as they thought he did, kindly, “Auntie, you know this is not your church? ” The young usher, never having turned anyone out of his church before, but not even considering this job as that (after all, she had no right to be there, certainly), went up to her and whispered that she should leave”. This paragraph show bold and blatant racism by the church member feeling superior to the black woman and asking her to leave before she is forced out of the church. The theme in both stories includes love.
In the story “Country Lovers” the author writes, “The schoolgirls he went swimming with at dams or pools on neighboring farms wore bikinis but the sight of their dazzling bellies and thighs in the sunlight had never made him feel what he felt now when the girl came up the bank and sat beside him, the drops of water beading off her dark legs the only points of light in the earth–smelling deep shade. They were not afraid of one another, they had known one another always; he did with her what he had done that time in the storeroom at the wedding, and this time it was so lovely, so lovely, he was surprised . . and she was surprised by it, too”. This paragraph allows the reader to image how deeply Paulus and Thebedi cared for each other and understand that true love has no color. The story goes on to say “The door of the parents’ bedroom was locked and the empty rooms where the girls had slept had sheets of plastic spread over the beds. It was in one of these that she and the farmer’s son stayed together whole nights almost: she had to get away before the house servants, who knew her, came in at dawn.
There was a risk someone would discover her or traces of her presence if he took her to his own bedroom, although she had looked into it many times when she was helping out in the house and knew well, there, the row of silver cups he had won at school”. As much as these two teenagers loved each other they were very careful not to leave any evidence of their love affair. In the story “The Welcome Table” the author shows how much the old black lady loves Jesus saying “A old heifer like me, she said, straightening up next to Jesus, breathing hard.
But he smiled down at her and she felt better instantly and time just seemed to fly by. When they passed her house, forlorn and sagging, weatherbeaten and patched, by the side of the road, she did not even notice it, she was so happy to be out walking along the highway with Jesus, she broke the silence once more to tell Jesus how glad she was that he had come, how she had often looked at his picture hanging on her wall (she hoped he didn’t know she had stolen it) over her bed, and how she had never expected to see him down here in person. Jesus gave her one of his beautiful smiles and they walked on. There is no greater love than the loving relationship between Jesus and the old lady. Hardship was an apparent to the theme of both stories. In the story “Country Lovers” the author writes, “She did not tell the farmer’s son that her parents had arranged for her to marry.
She did not tell him, either, before he left for his first term at the veterinary college, that she thought she was going to have a baby. He struggled for a moment with a grimace of tears, anger, and self–pity. She could not put out her hand to him. He said, “You haven’t been near the house with it? ” She shook her head. “Never? Again she shook her head. “Don’t take it out. Stay inside. Can’t you take it away somewhere. You must give it to someone—” Imagine how hard it must have been for both Paulus and Thebedi to have created a life together and continue to feel the love that was forbidden by their culture. The hardship was unbearable for Paulus and he would have to do something that would surely create a void and leave a feeling of resentment in his life. Thebedi went for the first time to the country town where Paulus had been to school, to give evidence at the preparatory examination into the charge of murder brought against him.
She cried hysterically in the witness box, saying yes, yes (the gilt hoop ear–rings swung in her ears), she saw the accused pouring liquid into the baby’s mouth. She said he had threatened to shoot her if she told anyone. More than a year went by before, in that same town, the case was brought to trial. She came to Court with a new–born baby on her back. She wore gilt, hoop ear–rings; she was calm; she said she had not seen what the white man did in the house. Paulus Eysendyck said he had visited the hut but had not poisoned the child.
The Defense did not contest that there had been a love relationship between the accused and the girl, or that intercourse had taken place, but submitted there was no proof that the child was the accused’s. Thebedi could not bear going through the hardship of testifying at the trial and the consequences of telling the truth; therefore she was willing to lie to avoid any further trouble. In the story “The Welcome Table” the author allows the reader to vividly see the old black lady as she described her saying “She was angular and lean and the color of poor gray Georgia earth, beaten by king cotton and the extreme weather.
Her elbows were wrinkled and thick, the skin ashen but durable, like the bark of old pines. On her face centuries were folded into the circles around one eye, while around the other, etched and mapped as if for print, ages more threatened again to live. Some of them there at the church saw the age, the dotage, the missing buttons down the front of her mildewed black dress. Others saw cooks, chauffeurs, maids, mistresses, children denied or smothered in the deferential way she held her cheek to the side, toward the ground.
Many of them saw jungle orgies in an evil place, while others were reminded of riotous anarchists looting and raping in the streets”. This description is vivid and from the description alone, the reader can imagine the struggles the old lady must have endured in her lifetime. The narrator expresses that both female characters feel a sense of rejection in “Country Lovers” “He said, “I’ll see what I will do. I don’t know. ” And then he said: “I feel like killing myself. ” Her eyes began to glow, to thicken with tears. For a moment there was the feeling between them that used to come when they were alone down at the river–bed”.
Although Paulus was probably feeling guilty and ashamed for being the father of Thebedi’s child, she was left feeling rejected because the idea of being her child’s father was enough to make Paulus feel like killing himself. In “The Welcome Table” the author paints a vivid picture of what the atmosphere was in the church saying “It was the ladies who finally did what to them had to be done. Daring their burly indecisive husbands to throw the old colored woman out they made their point. God, mother, country, earth, church. It involved all that, and well they knew it.
Leather bagged and shoed, with good calfskin gloves to keep out the cold, they looked with contempt at the bootless gray arthritic hands of the old woman, clenched loosely, restlessly in her lap. Could their husbands expect them to sit up in church with that? No, no, the husbands were quick to answer and even quicker to do their duty. Under the old woman’s arms they placed their hard fists (which afterward smelled of decay and musk—the fermenting scent of onionskins and rotting greens). Under the old woman’s arms they raised their fists, flexed their muscular shoulders, and out she flew through the door, back under the cold blue sky.
This done, the wives folded their healthy arms across their trim middles and felt at once justified and scornful. The white people felt justified in removing the black lady from the church and the black lady could not understand why they would treat her in such a manner after all she had done for them. The rejection the characters felt in the stories were different because the old black lady was physically rejected from a place where she thought everyone should be welcome and the rejection Thebedi felt was an emotional rejection that was probably more painful because she loved Paulus even though she knew she could never have a life with him.
Finally death is the last theme both stories have in common. In “Country Lovers” the author seems to suggest that Thebedi was in denial as she says “The baby was not fed during the night and although she kept telling Njabulo it was sleeping, he saw for himself in the morning that it was dead. He comforted her with words and caresses. She did not cry but simply sat, staring at the door. Her hands were cold as dead chickens’ feet to his touch, Njabulo buried the little baby where farm workers were buried, in the place in the field the farmer had given them”.
And in “The Welcome Table” She did not know where they were going; someplace wonderful, she suspected. The ground was like clouds under their feet, and she felt she could walk forever without becoming the least bit tired. They walked on, looking straight over the treetops into the sky, and the smiles that played over her dry wind–cracked face were like first clean ripples across a stagnant pond. On they walked without stopping”.
The old black lady would never have to suffer again, now she was in a place where she was loved and welcomed. The death of Thebedi’s baby was tragic, but the death of the old black lady was a long awaited gift from God. The major difference between these two short stories is how blatant the racism is in “The Welcome Table” the white members of the church feel that it is their God given right to throw the black lady out of the church because she is not good enough to worship God with them.
The racism in “Country Lovers” is more subtle because during apartheid it is a known fact that black people were oppressed, but at least Paulus was arrested for murdering the child and the only reason he was not convicted was because Thebedi’s hidden love for Paulus kept her from testifying against him. Another contrast between the two stories is that Paulus and Thebedi understood that maintaining a relationship was wrong; therefore their relationship was kept a secret.
The author reveals this by saying “The trouble was Paulus Eysendyck did not seem to realize that Thebedi was now simply one of the crowd of farm children down at the kraal, recognizable in his sisters’ old clothes. The first Christmas holidays after he had gone to boarding–school he brought home for Thebedi a painted box he had made in his wood–work class. He had to give it to her secretly because he had nothing for the other children at the kraal. And she gave him, before he went back to school, a bracelet she had made of thin brass wire and the grey–and–white beans of the castor–oil crop his father cultivated”.
Even though their love was forbidden by society, their feeling did not fade and they would meet in private to maintain their relationship. Whereas, in “The Welcome Table” the old lady did not experience any compassion from the member of the church she attempted to attend. In conclusion, racial discrimination continues to affected black people of the United States as well as Africa and even though racial discrimination is against the law in these countries there continues to be racial tension in both countries.
Both of these short stories allowed the reader to experience the same theme, which is centered on racism, love, hardship, rejection, and death. Both of these literary pieces heightens the reader awareness of the pain and suffering endured by the two black characters that were subject to racial discrimination and the superior mentality of those that participated in the discrimination. Both stories express the commitment and determination of two women to survive and overcome adversity.