Analysis of Shakespeare's The Tempest - Racism

Analysis of Shakespeare's The Tempest - Racism

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Racism in The Tempest  

 

One manifestation of racism that Cesaire surfaces is the proliferation of negative Black stereotypes. Cesaire uses Prospero to expose the feeble, racist stereotypes many Whites propagate about Blacks. Prospero, presenting a common White opinion, says to Caliban, "It [Caliban's living quarters] wouldn't be such a ghetto if you took the trouble to keep it clean" (13). Such a statement is clearly racist and plays into the stereotypes many Whites have about Blacks (i.e., they are lazy and dirty). These stereotypes are White lies. The cleanliness of a residence has very little to do with whether it is a ghetto or not. Also, Prospero's stereotypical response puts the blame on Blacks for problems that were ultimately created by European colonization and the subsequent employment of Africans as slaves. Furthermore, it can he argued that Whites are the lazy race because they are the ones who initiated African slave labor. Another stereotype that Whites often impose on Blacks has to do with a Black man's supposed desire to have sex with White women. Cesaire addresses this issue when Prospero accuses Caliban of trying to rape his daughter(l3). Cesaire is pointing out a classic case of White male guilt projection. History has clearly shown that more White men, supposedly pious slave owners in particular, have taken advantage of Black women, than Black males have of White women. The historical White power structures in America have facilitated the circumstances that have made this kind of sexual exploitation of Black women possible. By using Prospero to accuse Caliban of laziness and sexual impropriety, Cesaire poignantly reveals: the hypocrisy of Whites.

 

Another manifestation of racism that Cesaire draws to our attention is the woefully inadequate educational opportunities that exist for Blacks in America Caliban indicts Prospero when he says, "as for your learning, did you ever impart any of that to me? No, you took care not to. All of your science you keep for yourself alone, shut up in those big books" (12) While such a statement is historically accurate in the sense that Whites sought to keep Black slaves uneducated so that it would be easier to manipulate them, the statement also addresses the more subtle, but no less evil, form of educational racism that still exists to this day. Jonathan Kozol paints a graphic picture of degrading squalor when it comes

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to the physical structures of our schools for many Blacks and other minorities in America: broken bathrooms that emit repugnant odors throughout the school (36), broken windows that never get repaired (32), rain that pours in through huge holes in roofs (101), faulty heating systems that either do not work or are uncontrollable (32), and plaster falling off the walls and ceilings (100). Furthermore, the classrooms are woefully under-supplied with necessary tools, such as textbooks (32). Certainly, an honest look at the vastly different educational opportunities for Blacks and Whites is cogent proof of racism. The lack of protests over such pathetic conditions is an indictment in itself. Cesaire, using Caliban, shows his readers the undeniable fact that the influence of European colonization is still alive and well in America today in the ugly form of racism. History has clearly shown that European colonization has ultimately led to the rape and exploitation of the New World's native peoples and resources. Cesaire, using a Shakespearean paradigm, masterfully calls his readers' attention to the ugly consequences of greed, slavery, and racism manifest in the European colonization of the New World. By raising serious questions about the dubious nature and subsequent results of European colonization of the New World, Cesaire plays the role of the gadfly quite well. While a gadfly's purpose of agitation is necessary in order for change to become a reality, it falls short in that it often does not include possible solutions to the problems. Indeed, Cesaire is an expert at lucidly calling attention to factual injustices, but he is less obvious about possible solutions to the problems created by European colonization. The closest he comes to offering answers is to hint subtly at what he thinks the ultimate conclusions of colonization might be. For example, Caliban gives us an idea of what Cesaire might possibly be thinking could ultimately happen when he says, "The day when I begin to feel that everything is lost, just let me get hold of a, few barrels of your [Ariel's] infernal powder and as you fly around up there in your blue skies you'll see this island, my inheritance, my work, all blown to smithereens . . . and, I trust, Prospero and me with it" (23) This statement by Caliban is remarkably similar to Langston Hughes" poem, "Harlem," a poem about New York's Black enclave, written in 1951:

 

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore-- And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat? Or Crust and sugar over-- like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

Or does it explode? (Proffitt 297)

 

Cornel West, a respected Black intellectual, agrees with Langston Hughes about the devastating effects a dream deferred has had on many Black Americans. West has identified "nihilism," the loss of all hope, as the prevalent problem facing Blacks in America today (19-20. Another ultimate conclusion of European colonization that Cesaire hints at is that time is on the side of the Calibans of the world. At the very end of the play, we find a powerless Prospero and an enthusiastic Caliban shouting, "FREEDOM HI-DAY! FREEDOM HI-DAY" (68). Cesaire seems to suggest that the slave class ultimately outlives the ruling class, and consequently, is able to rule them. As America becomes more colorful, and consequently, less White, both Cesaire's prophecies seem realistic. That is, neither a major racial explosion nor the idea of Blacks ultimately dominating Whites is unrealistic.
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