Hinweise: Die Prozentangaben in Klammern zeigen die Gewichtung der einzelnen Aufgaben.
Dieser Vorschlag bezieht sich auf die Pflichtlektüre: Thomas C. Boyle: The Tortilla Curtain
- Outline the descriptions of fear in the excerpt from the short story “Thoughts in a Train”. (Material) (25 %)
- In the short story, wealth has to be protected. Compare the situation described in the text to that of Hispanic immigrants in the USA today, especially as described in T.C. Boyle's “The Tortilla Curtain”. (40 %)
- In another part of the short story, Tshabangu describes the situation of the blacks as follows: “[…] our bodies [are] sweating out the unfreedom of our souls, anticipating happiness in that unhappy architectural shame – the ghetto”. Some blacks react to this situation with “[…] the insanity of crime to protest their insane conditions. For, indeed, if we were not scared of moral ridicule we would regard crime as a form of protest.”
Discuss different forms of protest against political suppression. Take the quotations as a starting point and refer to the text at hand and to material discussed in class. (35 %)
Die Aufgaben beziehen sich auf den folgendenden Textauszug: Mango Tshabangu: Thoughts in a Train, in: Hirson, Denis und Trump, Martin (Hg.): The Heinemann book of South African Short Stories, From 1945 to the present, Oxford 1994, S. 162-164.
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The narrator of the given excerpt uses different means to relate to the fear of the persons appearing in the story. Nevertheless, he does not clearly point to reasons or sources of it.
One day, Msongi and Gezani, the two young protagonists, are walking through the rich suburbs of Johannesburg, and are feeling scared - although they are not able to clearly identify why. It is a kind of fear which is unknown to them. Police officers patrolling the streets watching black boys in a white neighborhood, of course, are frightening, but this is not what the two of them directly regard as causing their fear. The fear is always with them, in every situation - but to their own surprise, they cannot even put it into words and talk about it. They obviously do not understand where and how this feeling has been caused. This is shown by the permanent repetition of the words “the like of which they had never known” (for example, ll. 15/16, 20, 35, 50).
Once they tried to break through this unknown fear, but failed. This incident is also something they never talk about, because they are incapable of really grabbing this feeling. It seems to exist somewhere deep inside the boys’ souls, and cannot be taken away from them.
Nevertheless, Msongi starts openly reflecting on this fear, and thinks it is in the surroundings: in the place itself, in the stone walls, in the electrified fences. The fear is there, waiting to catch anyone who accidently passes by. Fear captures and covers you like darkness, which means you cannot escape or influence anything. Only light can provide some relief for a short period of time.
Surprisingly, Msongi is sure that this fear, which originates from an unknown place and makes the people’s souls tremble, has nothing to do with them living in Soweto. The black population does not possess any valuable things which could be stolen; the women and girls can look after themselves, so there is no urgent need to be afraid of anything – life could not get worse than it already is for them.
At the beginning of the excerpt, the narrator reflects about the white people sitting on trains with closed windows having a much more comfortable ride than the blacks have. This frame is closed at the end of the given text, when Msongi feels like throwing something at them as he sees the white faces of the passengers, and seems to realize that it is the white ones who feel fear. Finally, it is someone else who throws an empty bottle. The whites’ confused reaction shows that they really feel scared of everything that happens. At the end of all this, the train takes the people and their fear away from Msongi and Gezani, who have never known this kind of fear.
The text provided deals with a kind of unclearly defined fear that the protagonists as well as the wealthy population in richer suburbs of Johannesburg feel. At the same time, it concisely describes the living situation of the latter ones: Their area is precisely separated from the surroundings by stone walls and electrified fences, which could hardly be crossed by black intruders. They possess gold rings and diamond toothpicks, and do not need to think of how to earn their living or protect themselves, as police officers and their dogs patrol the streets and carefully watch everyone walking there, especially black boys. Thus, the people living there have the feeling they are being protected, regardless of whether it is their lives or their property. In contrast to them, the black majority is still seen as those who put this life at risk.
However, the many immigrants in the USA do not enjoy such kind of protection. There are about 11.9 million undocumented immigrants, of whom approx. 50% are of Mexican origin. They live in fear of being discovered and deported back to their home country. They do not want to risk reporting crime or injury, because this would also lead to deportation. They can even not be sure if the police force would focus on the crime itself or on the fact that they are illegal. All this makes it easy for robbers to successfully steal the immigrants’ money without the risk of being caught, for example. Farm workers are usually paid in cash, as they do not have a bank account due to the fact that an illegal worker is not allowed to open one. For the reasons mentioned above, an undocumented worker’s life is not a protected one at all, because they cannot rely on the rule of law.
Looking at Candido and América in T.C. Boyle’s Tortilla Curtain, we can follow the two Mexican protagonists into an illegal life full of harm and suffering. They do not even live in a house, but somewhere in the wilderness. Candido, who is hit by the white, middle-class Delaney, who is driving through a canyon, is badly injured as a result, and does not want to see a doctor because of his illegal status and because he does not have enough money to pay him. Delaney first of all thinks of his car, and then offers Candido $20, which would never have happened if Candido had been a white American. As his physical state makes it impossible for him to work, Candido’s pregnant girlfriend needs to find a job. Her employer cheats her, and does not pay the agreed wage. This is another situation that shows the inhuman status of illegal immigrants, as they cannot ask for help. Even after being raped, América is not able to trust anyone, and keeps this terrible experience for herself - because American authorities do not seem to be supportive of immigrants.
All this emphasizes the fact that illegal immigrants like Candido and América do not count much. They do not enjoy protection or support; they are the weakest elements in society. They have to work hard for little money, or they need to bear sexual abuse or insults. It is they who mostly work with substances that harm their health. They can hardly find authorities to complain to, because the threat of being deported is always present to them. Most illegal immigrants do not have a high education, and therefore are not hired for better paid positions.
Mexican illegal immigrants in the USA and representatives of the white, rich minority living in wealthy suburbs of Johannesburg do not have a single feature in common. The first group needs protection and help, but is not provided with anything; the second one is patronized 24/7. The immigrants are in daily trouble, fighting for survival and yearning to be treated as humans, whereas the South Africans lead a quite luxurious life in safe surroundings.
Although Hispanic immigrants, whether legal or illegal, contribute to the development of the American economy, they are somehow seen as a threat to American working places. They are willing to work for little money, and at the same time accept jobs an American would never do. Here society also needs to take responsibility for the weakest in the country, keeping the ideal of the American Dream alive.
“[…] our bodies [are] sweating out the unfreedom of our souls, anticipating happiness in that unhappy architectural shame- the ghetto”. Some blacks react to the situation with “[… ] the insanity of crime to protest their insane conditions. For, indeed, if we were not scared of moral ridicule we would regard crime as a form of protest.”
This quotation, taken from the text at hand, describes in just a few words the situation in which the black population of South Africa finds itself. Political suppression has always been a general problem in the history of mankind. It means limiting or not granting human rights; it means unfair or cruel treatment of a special group of people, preventing them from having the same rights as others.
In the following, I am going to refer to examples showing the absurdity of human behavior when people put themselves over others.
Tshabangu draws a very sad picture of the lives of the blacks when he says that their souls are unfree, which means the people’s minds are restricted in every way. Having to live in a ghetto is a violation of the right to develop freely as a person. For them, it is not easy to find an appropriate form of protest. There is just a bit of moral hesitation left, otherwise the blacks would see crime as an acceptable way to stand up against oppression.
One can clearly see that the blacks are looking for a way to leave their situation, but cannot find a solution. Being forced to live in certain areas is just one element of political suppression, for next to it there are forms like keeping people from voting or making them vote for a particular candidate; it includes discriminatory policies, police brutality or the prohibition of certain political parties.
Unfortunately, there is still an enormous number of violations of human rights, and thus political suppression. Just think of women who are seen as their husbands’ or fathers’ property, think of certain races which are denied opportunities and equality under the law, think of those many children who are not allowed to learn how to read and write properly, think of those under the thumb of a cruel dictator, or remember the poor who work under the hardest conditions for a minimum wage, and are struggling to achieve a basic human standard of life. This list seems to be endless…
In class we have often talked about the many different forms of protest against political suppression. We have had interesting discussions on the question of whether oppressed people should or should not have the moral legitimation to fight with weapons for their rights.
Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr, for example, followed the ideal of non-violent resistance their whole lives. They wanted to change the living conditions of the people in India and those of the black citizens in the USA. With their ideas, they mobilized lots of people to stand up against existing injustice. This way, civil disobedience became an effective means of protest.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 united the African-American population of Montgomery when they refused to ride on public buses for more than 300 days after Rosa Parks, who had not given her bus seat to a white passenger, had been arrested. The 1963 March on Washington, which Martin Luther King helped organize, led thousands of people, both black and white, to come together and listen to his famous speech ‘I have a dream’, in which he described his ideas of a society free of segregation, violence and prejudice, a society where color or race or sex do not matter.
Furthermore, let us have a closer look at recent history – the peaceful revolution in the GDR in 1989. The political leaders of the country had limited, for example, the people’s rights to freedom of speech, freedom of press, or religious freedom. Admittedly, the basic human rights were granted in the East German constitution, but were not put into reality. In addition, the population did not have the possibility of freely deciding where to live or where to travel.
All this, combined with economic mismanagement, resulted in peaceful demonstrations in many different towns of the country, and in people coming together in churches in the summer of 1989. The movement started with some hundreds of people, and grew bigger and bigger with thousands of participants. Not to be forgotten: General disappointment with the living conditions made people escape the GDR.
Because of all the demonstrations, the government of the GDR resigned in November 1989 and the political system broke down. The political change was reached without any fight or bloodshed.
On the contrary, of course, there are examples of violent protests. After the peaceful Orange Revolution in Kiev in 2004, the people felt dissatisfaction with political and economic decisions in Ukraine and started demonstrations on the Maidan, the main place of Kiev, as they did not see any other chance to change anything. These demonstrations led to conflicts with police forces and the army, and about 80 deaths as well as burning buildings were the result. Some of the effects of the incidents in 2013 and 2014 may even be seen today when we look at the annexation of the Crimea or the whole crisis in Ukraine.
All in all, it is not easy to decide if protest actions should always be violent or non-violent. As long as people’s rights are violated by politically or militarily stronger groups, every human being must decide for himself if and how he can contribute to fighting injustice.
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