Society Versus the Individual in Gather Together in My Name

Society Versus the Individual in Gather Together in My Name

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Society Versus the Individual in Gather Together in My Name          


"I reassured myself. I was helping my man. And, after all, there was nothing wrong with sex. I had no need for shame. Society dictated that sex was only licensed by marriage documents. Well, I didn't agree with that. Society is a conglomerate of human beings and that's just what I was. A human being." What we have here from Maya Angelou's novel, Gather Together in My Name, is the basic battle of society against the individual. Who wins? Well, according to Angelou, the answer is no one wins because everyone loses. It is this particular theme that needs to be addressed the most for two reasons. One is that Maya Angelou is one of the first black females to write about the "Ritas" of the world. The second, which is the one under investigation in this essay, is in reference to John Oliver Killens' criticism, "This is the story of a great heroine who knows the meaning of a struggle and never loses her pride or dignity. Indeed, her story makes me proud of the human race."

"I had no idea what I was going to make of my life, but I had given a promise and found my innocence. I swore I'd never lose it again." Those words spoken by Rita at the end of the novel seem to support Killens' appraisal. However, while an eighteen-year-old mother, who has had numerous failures and even a greater number of affairs, may know "the meaning of a struggle" quite well, it is not so that she never loses her pride or dignity. In fact, it is doubtful as to whether or not, even by the stories end, she has yet found it. One may argue that she found her pride and dignity after she stopped smoking pot or after she stopped prostituting or after (about the fifth time) she promised herself she would get her life together. Unfortunately, none of these are valid, for Rita did not actually discontinue the use of pot, she just ran out. Rita sleeps with a drug addict named Troubadour Martin for the security she thought she would receive from him.

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Rita does not straighten out her life but goes about in a complete circle, ending up where she started: a poor, young black female, with a child, living in her mother's house.

I must admit. however, that Killens is correct in saying that this books "makes me proud of the human race." Clearly not because of Rita's character or her actions but because of the respect I have developed for Maya Angelou. As James Baldwin said, "(Maya Angelou) liberates the reader into life..."

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