Morgan Allen Ms. Mayo ENG 101-1035 30 October 2012 Just Walk on By In Brent Staples’ essay, “Just Walk on By” the author describes his experiences, feelings, and reactions towards the discrimination he has faced throughout his life as a black man. Staples describes several different personal experiences of when he felt that he had been judged or discriminated against by other people based on the color of his skin and how that contributed to his overall appearance.
Staples has continuously been perceived as a danger or criminal simply because of his skin color, leading him to have to deal with many uncomfortable situations. The author has even gone so far as to take precautions when he is on the street just so that he will not be misjudged or thought of as dangerous by the people that surround him in these circumstances. Throughout Brent Staples’ essay, he illustrates how discrimination has affected him personally and uses various literary devices to elaborate on his points.
Staples position on discrimination is clearly portrayed throughout the essay; he has been misjudged based on the color of his skin and his physical appearance and for that reason alone. Although the topic of discrimination may be one that people do not like to talk about and something that people often avoid discussing, Staples displays a light tone and many different humorous remarks to get his point across. Staples uses a lot of irony in his work and uses a friendly approach to the more serious matters, which makes it a little easier to take in.
He begins by referring to a woman he had met as his victim, which of course it not at all what he means. She immediately has misjudged him as a mugger and he was left with an embarrassed and shamed feeling. He also illustrates himself as a more timid character by saying that he could scarcely bare laying a knife across chicken, let alone a human throat. Staples humorous approach makes the topic a lot easier for people to take in and sets a lighter mood for the difficult topic of discrimination.
The author uses a wide range of metaphors as a literary device, incorporating them in powerful and memorable ways. He compares himself to a shadow, helping describe the horrible persona that has been attached to him. He has no way of escaping the dangerous character that people have created for him. He later compares his whistling to cowbells, as a warning to the people around him. Staples whistles sophisticated tunes to lessen his dangerous persona. The use of metaphors is a common practice and it is very effective.
Using metaphors as a literary device immediately paints a picture in a audience’s mind and makes envisioning the main character that much simpler. Comparing himself to a shadow connects a reader instantly with his personality and while he may be timid, it is also apparent that he has another side to him that everyone may not be aware of. I feel that the use of these metaphors help to lighten the mood of the essay and creates a more playful feeling throughout the essay. Along in with the author’s use of metaphors is the frequent use of imagery.
In this reading, it is simple to envision the scenes as the different scenarios are explained and the audience can easily picture Staples in the places he is describing and also the people he comes across. Perhaps the most powerful and memorable imagery is provided in the author’s description of people’s different reactions and faces when they come into contact with him. Actions speak volumes and an immediate change of facial expression is possibly one of the strongest indications of a person’s reaction to someone else.
In the nervous and frightened expressions that Staples confronts, it is easy to see why he has reached the conclusion that people have discriminated against him because of his skin color and they are afraid of him. The imagery that Staples adds into his essay paint vivid pictures into the readers’ minds and help the reader to understand the situation clearly. Staples imagery is extremely strong throughout the essay and adds a lot to his different stories. Staples strongly expresses the fact that he wants the readers to feel sympathy for him whether it is intentional or not.
It almost sounds like he makes himself to be the criminal in all of these situations. He takes precautions to look innocent, he avoids situations that could make him look like the bad guy, and he gives those who are judging him an easy out. Staples describes various colored men that grew up around him and he also notes that many of them end up in jail. He informs his audience that his skin color largely overshadows white skin color when it comes to crimes. Because he mentions this, he has the audience back to thinking that skin color really does make a difference.
But by confronting these facts, he makes himself actually look that much more innocent, and a reader really can’t help but sympathize with him. Because he saw so many people with the same skin color end up in jail or worse, he understands why people misjudge him and he genuinely seems like he doesn’t blame them at all for the misconception. His reactions to these types of circumstances helps his cause. He frequently feels shamed or guilty, like it is his fault that these people he comes into contact with are afraid to even make eye contact with him.
He feels bad for the people and wishes that they did not have to feel this way, when really it is not his fault. As these incidences continue to build, he also finds himself upset and angry over the repeated situation of being confused as a criminal. Because of these things, he has begun to take certain precautions, such as humming the tunes of sophisticated songs when on the streets to not look like a criminal. Another powerful aspect of this piece is the relaxed mood that is present throughout reading Brent Staples essay.
The piece is mostly composed of short sentences that are placed amongst longer sentences. This makes for interesting reading and keeps an audience on task. Staples makes sure not to use to many complicated words that make the audience think to much. All of the sentences are not overwhelmingly difficult to understand so grasping his point and drawing a conclusion is made simple, especially for an audience that is looking to analyze in a deeper way than a mere summary. Descriptive adjectives used in the work are powerful and strategically placed throughout the essay.
Throughout “Just Walk on By” a constant picture is painted in the reader’s head which makes the reading way more enjoyable and also memorable. The memorability of this essay makes the message really stick with the audience after they are finished reading it, which most likely was the author’s original purpose. The author also included more casual stories from his own past, which not only made the readers think more on the topic, but also made what he was saying more believable and allowed the reading to possibly think how it might have related to their life.
Through all these various devices, Brent Staples has really made this work more powerful and the message more clear. It is a difficult task to change the minds of an audience who probably already has certain misconceptions and can understand why a black man would be discriminated against based on his appearance when walking the street. Staples uses many powerful literary devices that draw his readers in and forces them to think. Staples paints a perfect picture in the readers minds and makes it easy to sympathize with him when it comes to the endeavors he has had to overcome because of the constant discrimination.