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Essay about Outsider Characters

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Outsider Characters

Introduction

Outsider characters are derived from the concept of being an isolated being from a basically conventional society. An analysis of an outsider character in a film, therefore, is based on the likelihood of an individual who is either isolated or one who has chosen to isolate or exclude himself or herself from the mainstream society (EdHelper). Some of the potential reasons or grounds based on which a character earns the position of being an outsider is through the behavior he or she exhibits in the story line that tend to navigate away from what the boundaries of the society require. The paper seeks to reflect on Langston Hughes’s “Salvation” and Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path” and specifically on matters outsider themes. Specifically, the essay seeks to reflect on the attributes that define the outsider characters in the two stories and much importantly define the similarities and differences between them.

Definition of the Outsider Characters

The outsider character in the short story “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty is Phoenix. On the other side, the outsider character selected for this analysis is Langston Hughes. First, in the case of Phoenix, is an aged, equally frail but also fierce woman. Having been born into slavery and specifically in the pre-civil-war South, she seems to be extensively focused on achieving what she desires without giving anyone an opportunity to deter her. Claxton states, “…she vividly portrays Phoenix’s difcult history as an African American woman in Mississippi during this time” (Claxton 75).   In the text, Phoenix is seen complaining, “Seem like there is chains about my feet, time I get this far… Something always take a hold of me on this hill—pleads I should stay” (Welty 78).  Irrespective of the fact that she is defined as quite work-out by her past experiences, that does not deter her from her faith in God, love for her grandchild, and optimism she depicts. In fact, towards the end of the story, she reaffirms that she is a potential source of power for those who are powerless. This is an exhibition of a character who takes the role of an outsider character and at the same time is considered to be a source of power to those who may feel powerless.

On the other side, Langston is one of the main characters in a story that revolves around religion. He seems to have a way different view of religion regarding religion but fails to initially concede to the religious constructs. That happens even though he attends religious functions as provided in the story. The very first statement in the story “I was saved from sin when I was going on thirteen. But not really saved” explains the paradox manifested in the character’s demeanor (Hughes 1). Upon fairly defining the characters, it is feasible to now establish an analysis and comparison between the two outsider characters from the two short stories.

Comparison of the Outsider Characters.

The very first approach towards defining a character as an outsider is based on whether he or she does things that are isolated from what is expected in the conventional society. On the other side, it could be all about defining a character who has been forced by the same society to appear isolated from what a conventional member of the society would go through. From this account, Phoenix differs from Hughes in that Hughes is an outsider character on the account of personal or individual purpose to be one. The story provides an instance where Hughes is taken to the church and forced to follow suit in becoming saved like any other child. The narrator states, “That night I was escorted to the front row and placed on the mourners’ bench with all the other young sinners, who had not yet been brought to Jesus” (Hughes 1). On the other side, Phoenix is an outsider character in that the situations she finds herself in are not entire what she wishes to experience. However, as a result of the series of experiences that she goes through, she out rightly becomes an outsider character.

Phoenix is an outsider in a wide range of ways. First, she is considered an outsider in the short story merely because of her race. Further, she is an outsider on the account of the social standing and level of education, the uniquely difficult situations she goes through and the place she lives. The story provides an in-depth reflection of the kind of life that Hughes has to live in. Specifically, the author states, “Neither rape, nor the word woman can be understood without an understanding of the social construction of gender, nor can either be fully understood apart from ecology. The racist mind, the misogynist mind, the mind afraid of nature and which denies natural limitation and mortality are often the same mind” (Welty 80). It is because of her race and social status that she has to go through immense discrimination. From an analytical perspective, being discriminated and consistently described based on her racial belonging, the hardships in her upbringing and the emotional and physical distress. One of the instances that indicates this involuntary outsider status is when Phoenix goes to get medicine in town for the grandson. However, she also exhibits resilience even as she is considered an outsider character. Piwinski argues, “… the image of mistletoe in “A Worn Path” allusively complements Welty’s characterization of Phoenix Jackson, for in her self-sacrificing devotion to her grandson ….”(Eurora 41). There is an automatic assumption that her case falls under the charity case. Ideally, this is a clear indication that she is part of a society that is different from the mainstream society. The author points out that “White people were content to exploit black people while returning just a pittance and labeling it as “charity”” (Eurora 81).

Hughes, on the other side, in the company of his friend Westley attend a Christian event and even pretend to have appreciated the constructs of the religion. However, they willingly decide not to manifest their faith in the Christian God until they are satisfied that they should. Hughes points out “I wanted to see him, but nothing happened to me. Nothing! I wanted something to happen to me, but nothing happened” (Hughes 1). Ideally, this is one of the clear instances where Hughes portrays the true attributes of being an outsider character. A perfect example is when Hughes’s aunt tends to insist that she thinks that, like everyone else, is a Christian. Hughes states, “My aunt told me that when you were saved you saw a light, and something happened to you inside! And Jesus came into your life!” (Hughes 1). The story provides an overview of the experiences at the child when Hughes was purportedly got saved after being prayed for by a group of old people. As opposed to merely fitting into the mainstream society and what is expected of everyone in terms of being a believer, Hughes, instead, states, “Still I kept waiting to see Jesus” (Hughes 1). That clearly implies that he was not willing to be an insider character merely because it is normal to do so. Further, Baldwin indicates that, “religion is a powerful force, but rather that offering the revelation of faith, it can offer a very different kind of awakening” (Baldwin 982).

Hence, based on the analysis, it is clear that there is a clear difference between Phoenix and Hughes on the account that Hughes is a self-motivated and stimulated outsider character – by his choice, yet Phoenix is an outsider character after being forced or drugged into the status all because of her status as a minority with a series of economic and social challenges. The different instances where Phoenix is said to try to strive towards ensuring that she gets a good life in an environment which does not support her well-being based on her implied social status exhibit her as an outsider character. The issue of unacceptability in the society for Phoenix is different from the case of Hughes. Hughes tends to have an opinion that makes him an outsider character. As opposed to the general population where everyone is supposed to worship and believe in Christ without questioning the process, Hughes seeks know who Christ is after which he may choose to believe in him. The concept choice is eminent in building an outsider character based on Hughes’ case. Hence, the issue of isolation by discrimination and isolation by choice emerges. Ideally, the most important thing to note is that after Hughes does not concede to the pressure mounted on him regarding the need for him to concede to what others consider normal mainstream. In fact, during the night, Hughes cries in bed and in the process overhears the aunt stating that, “I was crying because the Holy Ghost had come into my life, and because I had seen Jesus” (Hughes 2). She tries to overrun the initial argument that Hughes had given that he failed to agree with them since he had not seen Jesus.              

Works Cited

Hughes, Langston. ““Salvation”.” The Center for Fiction, centerforfiction.org/fiction/salvation-by-langston-hughes/.

Welty, Eudora. “A Worn Path.” 1941.” Stories, Essays, & Memoir (1998): 171-79.

Works Cited

EdHelper.Com. “The Outsiders Worksheets and Literature Unit.” Free Worksheets and Math Printables You’d Actually Want to Print | EdHelper, www.edhelper.com/books/The_Outsiders.htm.

Claxton, Mae Miller. “Migrations and Transformations: Human and Nonhuman Nature in Eudora Welty’s” A Worn Path”.” The Southern Literary Journal (2015): 73-88.

Piwinski, David J. “Mistletoe in Eudora Welty’s “A Worn Path”.” ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes and Reviews 16.1 (2003): 40-42.

Baldwin, Kate A. “Langston Hughes: Working toward Salvation.” (2006): 981-982.

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