According to the curriculum of our Athens to New York course, we are supposed tostudy certain themes that are carried through history and literary works ofvarious eras. In addition, there are some recurring themes that also becomeevident, especially in some of the more recent works that we have studied.
Workslike Cornel West’s Race Matters, Elie Wiesel’s Night, and Franz Kafka’s TheTrial, carry many similar themes, and teach us readers some important lessonsabout ourselves as the human race. Through each work’s message, we can study”what it means to be: human, a member of a community, and moral, ethical,or just, as well as how individuals respond to differences in race, class,gender, and ethnicity in relation to action” (this quote taken from one BobAnderson). While I dare not attempt to categorize each of the meanings that theauthors gave to their books, I can find one major similarity. In each of thebooks, the author is in search of a Utopian society that does not contain all ofthe faults of our modern day society.
Charles Darwin heavily believed in”survival of the fittest” in his work with evolution. In the societythat we have created in our world today, one can see this belief holding true.Survival and all around relations between different groups in general has becomedependent on five little letters. These letters spell out “power.” Onewho holds the “power,” seems to try and lord over those who do not.
This struggle over power has become one of, if not the, reason for the majordifferences between groups. While the battle over power rages on, a Utopiansociety will continue to be an impossible goal. Allow me to explain by use ofthe books I have earlier highlighted. Franz Kafka’s Night tells the story JosephK., a man who must defend himself against the courts of the day, while lackingany and all information about his case. The man finds himself suddenly arrestedone day and placed on trial for a crime he does not know he committed.
The manbecomes increasingly frustrated as he finds no one capable of helping himdevelop a case to defend himself with. No one can even provide him with anyinformation about why he is on trial. With no where to go, and no one turn to,Joseph discovers that the justice system that was designed to help the peoplehas worked against him, and his situation is utterly hopeless. Kafka makes astrong about how modern bureaucracy and totalitarianism has become so extremethat it harms the people that it is designed to protect. Justice has becomejaded by its own self and its own methods.
A government is created by thepeople, for the people, but has instead gained the power to lord over thepeople. Here we see the power switch from man to the system. Joseph has becomealienated from normal society because of crimes that he does not know hecommitted, displaying the corruption of the justice system. This nightmare isnot entirely too far from our modern day reality. According to a well-known bookthat discusses this topic, Urban Administration-Management Politics and Change,”Contemporary technological society places a heavy burden upon theindividual to adapt to a large-scale, highly complex, and often times impersonalbureaucratic environment.
For a substantial number of the members of the modernmass societies this burden has become the source of pervasive feelings ofanxiety and estrangement now fashionably termed ‘alienation.'” (Bent ;Rossum, p. 201) Man now has the choice of falling into line and being another”cog in the wheel,” or finding himself alienated from the rest ofsociety who presumably does. In this dark and dreary portrait that Kafka paintsof our modern world, a community is formed when everyone agrees to accept hisrole, be equal with everyone else.
It seems that being human is more of beingpart of a system and being like everyone else, than being an individual. Inorder to be morally just, one must follow the laws and the system, even if theywork against you, rather than for you. Men’s minds have been warped to believethat justice is merely a state of mind. Elie Wiesel searches for his Utopiansociety amid the horrors of the Holocaust. His book Night, gives anautobiographical account of his real-life nightmares during World War II. He hadseen things that no one should be forced to see; things that may have swayed hisonce immovable faith in God.
In a world of despair, where the Nazis hadunlimited power over the Jews, a Utopian society where are all equal seemedunattainable. It was sadly simple, one group (the Germans) had the power andability to eliminate another group that they deemed subordinate, so they triedto erase them. Elie had high religious morals. He strongly believed that thepower of prayer could overcome all, although this belief became questionable ashis horrors continued. He loved his family very much, and wanted to stick by hisfather through thick and thin from the beginning. Even in the end, his onlyconcern was that his father survived.
Survival was of dire importance, and inorder to survive one needed to keep his faith in God and his love for hisfamily. The light in someone’s eyes showed if he was alive or dead, once thatlight was lost, the body followed. I wanted to use some quotes from The Diary ofAnne Frank in order to complimented Wiesel’s accounts, but I found I learnedmuch more from observing the ongoing, daily tribulations than finding one exactquote. The holocaust consisted of so much gradual torture and the best quotationthat can be used is an entire book as opposed to one small insignificantsentence. Cornel West brings the issu e of Utopian society to our modern-daylives.
Regarded as one of the greatest thinkers and racial leaders in the worldtoday, his book Race Matters not only expresses his feelings about the situationof the human race today, but it also provides some suggestions and optimism forthe future. He states that although Whites have much of the political and socialpower in today’s world, Blacks do not due entirely too much to help theirsituation. He confronts prejudice but expresses his belief that all races sharethe same destiny. According to Newsday, “West’s thinking consistentlychallenges the conventional wisdom and confronts the reader with profound andunsettling insights.
” (West, back cover) West calls for some positiveaction to be taken in order to make all races truly equal. He sees manydifferences among all races, but he feels that this is natural, and each must beunderstanding of the next. In the book Jews and Blacks, West was asked tocomment on how to confront the problem of anti-Semitism by inner-city Blacks.”You have to convince people that it is a problem.” He states.
“Black people are facing so many difficult issues today-Blacks don’t haveenough resources, and food and housing and health care and so forth-that it’snot always obvious to African-Americans that alongside of these there’s also theproblem of anti-Semitism.” (Lerner and West, p.249) West’s Race Mattersexplains his ideas and beliefs in full detail. He pushes for a Utopian society,in which all races get along and treat each other as equals. He says that we asa human race need to see things from “all angles.
” One must step backand look at the entire picture before making a judgement. Perhaps the mostmeaningful point that Mr. West tries to express is that our society as a wholeneeds strong leaders. Today we lack strong racial leaders like Dr.
Martin LutherKing Jr. and Malcolm X. Very much like Martin Luther King, West dreams of a daywhen one group does not have any social advantages over another.
He dreams of aday when there is no power struggle between races. Through each of thesemonumental works, we learn some important lessons about the human race. West,Wiesel, and Kafka preach against the alienation and segregation that we createin our society. We design our governments and create our political systems inorder to aid us in dealing with each other, however, they have been obscuredthrough time. Now they have begun to work against us, alienating us from eachother. Justice has truly become in the eye of the beholder, as its rules andregulations have become as cold as stone. I see the main theme in Night, RaceMatters, and The Trial as being “the impossible quest for a Utopiansociety.
” The struggle over power has created a wall between differentgroups. Whether this be the power of the government, or of one group overanother, the human race cannot peacefully coincide unless each individual sees”the big picture” instead of being limited to his own point of view.Everyone needs to take a step back at look what is wrong within himself and theworld that he surrounds himself with, if any positive movement is to be made inorder to unite everyone. If a Utopian society is ever to be reached, a commonground must be reached on “what it means to be human, what it means to be amember of a community, what it means to be moral, ethical, or just, and themanner in which individuals and communities respond to differences in race,class gender, and ethnicity are related to action.” (again quoted from oneBob Anderson) In order to do so, we must place this struggle for power on theback burner for the greater good of all humanity.