Stages of Oppression Essay Example
An issue that has consistently plagued humans from a very early time in history, is the relationships between the oppressed and their oppressors, and the mistreatment of those without power. This ongoing problem has been recounted time and time again through both history and literature. Three fictional novels, in particular, that provide both thoughtful insight and reflection onto the subject of oppression, are The Hunger Games, The Secret Life of Bees, and Year of Wonders. The authors of these stories use their characters and the conflicts they endure to explore the stages of experiencing and overcoming oppression. By following the thought processes of each of the three characters, readers experience the initial restriction of humanity in each story, the reflection and understanding of what is happening, and then finally taking action against the threat, along with them.
The beginning of any instance of oppression is the initial restriction of humanity. In any relationship between the oppressed and the oppressor, both sides are subsequently stripped of their connection to humanity. Accordingly, In his book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, educator and philosopher Paulo Freire, says that “No one can be authentically human while he [or she] prevents others from doing so.'' Freire makes the point that by taking away the natural human rights of another, the oppressor is likely to lose their humanity as well, therefore causing the theme of oppression having a dehumanizing effect on both sides of the relationship to be seen often in the three stories.
In The Hunger Games, a dystopian novel in which an overarching Capitol forces the surrounding districts to send their children to compete in a fight to the death every year, the main character, Katniss, says that “Whatever words they use, the real message is clear. ‘Look how we take your children and sacrifice them and there’s nothing you can do. If you lift a finger, we will destroy every last one of you.” (19). In this quote, Katniss shares that she and everyone else in the district know that the Hunger Games is a weapon that the Capitol is using to assert their power, and keep the districts oppressed. As the Capital restricts the district's human right to live, they become dehumanized in the eyes of those whom they are oppressing.
The Capitol people are known for their outrageous appearances, showing that over time, the Capitol people began moving farther away from their humanity, even presenting themselves to the districts as not looking human. Similar themes take place in Year of Wonders, a novel about the ruthless effects of the Plague, in which Anna Frith, a young widow, sees the destruction of her neighbors happen right in front of her. In this case, the oppressor is not a tangible source, it is the plague. In this story, it is the oppressed that lose their humanity, being that this type of oppression is completely out of the villagers’ control, they become quick to blame each other and jump into a mob mentality. This becomes clear, when a mob of townspeople, looking for a way to understand the plague, hang a woman named Anys Gowdie, who they claim to be a witch (91). This is a different viewpoint of the loss of humanity during oppression, showing that the oppressed can just as easily lose their grasp in humanity as well.
Ordinarily, before attempting to overcome oppression, it is necessary for those being oppressed to reflect on the problem at hand, to understand what actions need to be taken to stop it. Looking back at Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire also makes the point that when it comes to being involved in taking a stand against an oppressor, it “can not be limited to mere activism, but must include serious reflection: only then will it be a praxis”. In Freire’s view, to successfully overcome an oppressor, the oppressed need to know exactly what they are up against, and how they function. Similarly, In the stories mentioned, the characters each must look deep inside themselves to gain a clear view of how they are either being oppressed or how they are oppressing others themselves. In the case of
The Secret Life of Bees, a novel about a young white girl named Lily, who grows up surrounded by racism, she must reflect on herself and her innate feelings to realize that she could be a part of the oppressing side. After Lily meets three African-American sisters, who take her in and care for her, she thinks to herself that “Since I was to tell the whole truth, which means the worst parts, I thought they could be smart, but not as smart as me, me being white . . . That’s what let me know I had some prejudice buried inside me” (78). August, one of the sisters, defied all of Lily’s preconceived notions about how a black person should act, and through the bond and fellowship that Lily created with her, Lily was able to understand the side of the oppressed and empathize with them.
Conversely, in The Hunger Games, Katniss’s reflection brought her a clearer view of who her enemy really was, the Capitol, not the other tributes. In the Games, Katniss kills a tribute because he killed her ally, she then says that “To hate the boy from District 1, who also appears so vulnerable in death, seems inadequate. It’s the Capitol I hate, for doing this to all of us” (236). Katniss is being oppressed by the Capitol, but she eventually comes to understand that the Games are more than just a punishment, they are designed to keep the districts distracted fighting with each other, to set their sights away from the Capitol. Nevertheless, while Lily and Katniss’s situations are very different from each other, their new understandings of what they are truly fighting against, have the same impact, clearing their minds and showing them exactly who they are fighting against.
To overcome oppression, those being oppressed must be brave enough to take action. Returning to Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire writes that “It is only when the oppressed find the oppressor out and become involved in the organized struggle for liberation that they begin to believe in themselves. This discovery cannot be purely intellectual but must involve action.” Developing confidence in oneself, that is not clouded by the opinions of an oppressor, is an important aspect of liberation and is showcased by the characters in the three stories.
For Anna Frith, with the plague ravaging her village with no end in sight, her actions were not to stop the plague, but to instead help those most negatively impacted by it. Anna made herbal remedies, helped women in labor give birth, and even went mining to help a young girl keep her claim on her mines. While doing all these good deeds may have seemed futile to others, Anna discovered that by helping the survivors to overcome their losses, that “For one time, at least, in that hard season, I had the satisfaction of having done a thing that had come out right” (187). Anna’s story, Year of Wonders, is an example of how sometimes, there is no possible way to defeat an oppressor, but no actions put towards defeating it are unnecessary, and that even a small act of rebellion, like allowing a girl who may be dead in a few days anyway, to keep her mine, can provide hope to those who have lost it.
Moreover, in The Secret Life of Bees, Lily’s actions of being white, and living with a family of black people, may not have changed people’s commonly racist ideas, but probably caused people to question those values. Lily did, however, change her father T. Ray’s views on black people, as he decided to let Lily continue to live with August. Lily even thought that as he was driving away, that T. Ray was thinking “Oh, Lily, you’re better off there in that house of colored women” (299-300). While T. Ray’s shift in thinking may not seem like much, it was a step in the right direction towards changing the mindset that most people had about race during that time, and every action counts. While the actions of Anna and Lily may not have ended the oppression that either of them was facing right then and there, they both dared to take a stand, which is all that can be asked of a person in this situation.
Regardless of the circumstances, overthrowing oppression of any nature is very difficult to achieve, and does not happen all at once. The authors of The Hunger Games, The Secret Life of Bees, and Year of Wonders, looked to the past for information to craft their unique stories with their takes on oppression. In the stories of Katniss, Lily, and Anna, as readers follow each woman's journey through overcoming oppression, it is brought to light that it takes a series of small steps backed up by deep understanding, to overthrow restrictions placed on humanity. Unfortunately, the struggles of oppression will cast their shadow over every generation of humanity, but with the examples set by history and fiction, the answer to overcoming these struggles will always be within reach.