Jim Crow laws period in “The sky is grey” by Ernest J. Gaines.

The world of literature attracts people at all the times due to various personal interests, as every one of us is able to find something wondering in thousands of exciting novels and poems. However, one of literature’s greatest values is its availability to be interpreted to real life events. The thoughtful readers are welcome to get the hidden idea, which is useful to generate own conclusions about author’s message and work’s relevance. In this paper, we will try to get the reflection of Jim Crow laws period in “The sky is grey” by Ernest J. Gaines. It is stated that great author was trying to stress that disagreement with the concept of “person with disability”, proclaimed by cruel time of Black Codes, is the raising factor to induce oppressed to civil disobedience. To confirm this claim, needful historical analysis has to be provided.

To begin with, we have to recognize that modern civilized community treats Jim Crow laws as one of the most shameful page of American history. Answering the question, what is Jim Crow in fact, the meaning of complicated and multifaceted phenomenon is the most suitable explanation. At the first glance, there is just the talk about legislatively adopted regulative acts, which legalized the trend towards racial segregation. On the other hand, Jim Crow can be determined as the system of social behavior, the way of life for millions. In this regard, laws were used only to proclaim course to racial oppression de jure. The American society experienced Jim Crow system from 1877 till middle 1960’s. These laws and way of life were mostly (but not exclusively) spread in Southern States.

Kennedy Stenson provides rather laconic and at the same time comprehensive list of features, which were inherent for society affected by Jim Crow trend: “Whites were superior to Blacks in all important ways, including but not limited to intelligence, morality, and civilized behavior; sexual relations between Blacks and Whites would produce a mongrel race which would destroy America; treating Blacks as equals would encourage interracial sexual unions; any activity which suggested social equality encouraged interracial sexual relations; if necessary, violence must be used to keep Blacks at the bottom of the racial hierarchy” (Kennedy). However, it should be understood that previous quote reflects the informal concept, the way of life we were talking about. The official Jim Crow laws (Black Codes) were not so radical. Frankly, it established quasi segregation instead of real inequality. The main official concept was “separate but equal”. However, the real life stressed significant difference between de jure and de facto. As for the prerequisites of Black Codes adaptation, appropriate laws were widely promoted by Republican Rutherford B. Hayes in 1877. However, passed 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution served as the deterrent to inhuman moods. Unfortunately, the law precedent eliminated balance. The infamous Plessy v. Ferguson case 1896 legalized Crow Laws and gave the start line of permitted racial discrimination.

In fact, Black Codes touched every sphere and field of human life. On the paper, it was just separation. Frankly, not white (colored) people had the same rights, but they had to be realized in other institutions. Eventually, Black Codes established to racial classes: Whites ”“ advantaged, Colored ”“ disadvantaged and oppressed. Gunnar Myrdal writes in next way, which is useful to display the overall picture: “There were separate hospitals for Blacks and Whites, separate prisons, separate public and private schools, separate churches, separate cemeteries, separate public restrooms, and separate public accommodations. In most instances, the Black facilities were grossly inferior – generally, older, less-well-kept. In other cases, there were no Black facilities – no Colored public restroom, no public beach, no place to sit or eat” (Myrdal). However, the restriction of rights was not the only point about Jim Crow laws. It is extremely horrible, but legal prescription to intolerance led to fatal consequences. Those Blacks who violated established rules of separation risked to take serious punishment, such all job or home loss. Moreover, some of Black codes’ violations were punished by death sentence. At that time, the Lynching laws reached wide popularity and implementation. According to Joseph Boskin, Lynchings were public, often sadistic, murders carried out by mobs. Between 1882, when the first reliable data were collected, and 1968, when lynchings had become rare, there were 4,730 known lynchings, including 3,440 Black men and women. Most of the victims of Lynch-Law were hanged or shot, but some were burned at the stake, castrated, beaten with clubs, or dismembered (Boskin). Such injustice was determined by entirely “White” judicial system, which hardly could be called unbiased. Moreover, Lynching became the instrumental of business competition reducing. For example, Lynching was extremely popular in little towns, where Blacks took the part of significant competitors to White businessmen. Thereby, Jim Crow Laws (Black codes) became the base of inhuman and ruthless violence, oppressive treatment and significant restrictions against minority and in the name of ruling majority. The end of horrible and shameful part of American history takes its roots in 1960’s, when civil rights movements were activated. The last point in this story was put by President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who did much to persuade legislatives to pass the Civil Rights Act in 1964.
Being clear with the general view on the period of Jim Crow laws, the figure of oppressed person with disability arises naturally in our minds. It is interesting that appropriate point is also stressed in “The sky is grey” by Ernest J. Gaines. It is important to remember that one of Gaines’ greatest literature work was written at the period of incredible activity of civil rights movements, at the time of awakening to fight for not separated and real equality. Thereby, the plot of short story is featured by interconnections between figures of oppressed and those who are encouraged not to accept imposed reality. In fact, Gaines’ “The sky is grey” was created at crucial times of standards changes. Obviously, this mood became important for the entire concept of his work. As the result, readers meet two main characters ”“ little boy James and his poor mother, who has no money to meet basic needs of her family. These two figures seem to be used as mapping of long oppressed minds’ evolution under the influence of cruel injustice. On the one hand, readers are able to learn about boy James, the little stoic character, who never verbalizes his racial awareness. However, such awareness is clear to be felt and determined. In fact, eight-year-old boy does not always show his fear, but he often meet circumstances, which rise up a kind of it. The first sign is when James conformed and recognized a sign

“”˜White’ and ”˜Colored’” in bus. Ivana Howard is rather persuasive with next claim about this part: “At the sight of it, James starts looking for the seat “back there” which shows his adherence to Jim Crow laws by which the “colored” people have to sit in the back of the bus. James casually notes the separation of the two races according to Jim Crow laws: he notices a few cafés “where the white people are eating” and notes that he and his mom “cannot go in there” (Howard). The scene from school ground even more persuasive: “James sees them white children playing in the yard. Big old red school, and them children just running and playing” (Gaines). This part is defining for young boy to accept cruel segregation between those who intended to enjoy the happiness of life, and those who have to suffer accepting ruthless injustice. In respect to the mental condition of the main character, the figure of James was used to reflect the sense of fear of people who had to accept the oppression and title of second class.

On the other hand, we meet Jame’s mom, poor lady with incredibly difficult faith. At the same time, she looks a little different from her son. Remember, the part when white old lady Helena, who has watching James and his mother all the time they were walking around, insisted they to come inside the dentist office. Being motivated with the sense of sympathy, the old woman proposed two poor people some food. Notwithstanding objective need in it, Jame’s mother did not accept the charity. The decent behavior of woman is explained by the sense of great self-respect. Remind the words she said to James: “you are not a bum, you are a man”(Gaines). Analyzing the character of Jame’s mom, readers are able to get the conclusion that she is the woman of civil obedience. In this respect, characters used by Gaines help us to confirm the statement placed in the introduction of this paper. She did not want to accept injustice and she found the power to fight with it! In other words, great writer was trying to say that the awareness of self-esteem, which leads to civil disobedience, is the only solution for oppressed to break the dreadful reality.

Actually, the history has confirmed the view of Ernest J. Gaines. As we know, the start of Jim Crow end was made by the civil rights movement, leaded by greatest minds of that era. The disagreement to accept the injustice transformed to common civil obedience became the defining factors to get the real values of equality. Being the witness of appropriate time, Ernest J. Gaines stressed previous idea in his short story “The sky is grey”, and it is extremely pleasant that the history developed in the way predicted by him. Who knows? Probably, it was the only possible to restore the society of equal rights and freedoms.


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