Clash of Identity

The difference between Rodriguez’s struggle between identity and Angelou’s struggle is that, Angelou’s identity’s center of focus is her name, while Rodriguez’s identity seems to revolve around his “complexion”. Although they both wrote about the struggle with their own identity, the views and attitude of the two authors differ. In Richard Rodriguez’s essay “Complexion” and Maya Angelou’s essay “Mary” both authors illustrate some hardships they faced during their life, such as their experience with racism and prejudice.

In spite of the fact that they are both faced with similar situations, the actuality that sets apart their characters is how they dealt with each of their situations. Rodriguez attitude about himself during his childhood was largely influenced by his family, especially his mother, “Dark skin was for my mother the most important symbol of a life of oppressive labor and poverty. “(Rodriguez. 451), people who worked in fields and construction sites spent most of their time under the sun, causing their “complexion” to darken, so it was assumed that a person with dark skin was a menial laborer.

Rodriguez’s mother would commonly point out his dark complexion by comparison with the poor and the black, at one time she told Rodriguez, “You look like a negrito you won’t be satisfied till you end up looking like los pobres”(Rodriguez 447). His mother’s friends would also often talk of what a burden or a curse it was, to have dark skin, ” it was a woman’s spoken concern: the fear of having a dark-skinned son or daughter. Rodriguez 449), Rodriguez is illustrating that in his culture, people preferred light skin children over dark skin, knowing that a light skinned child would not face as much prejudice a dark skinned child would growing up.

In contrast, Margaret wasn’t ashamed of her skin, or being of different color, she was proud of her race and ethnicity, at the beginning she expresses her pride through her relatives accomplishment, “my grandmother had owned the only Negro general merchandise store since the turn of the century. Maya 3), this she said to a Texas women, when asked about her hometown. Rodriguez and Angelou both expressed their struggled in search for their own identity in their essay. Margaret’s identity was compromised when Margaret was called out of her original name. Margaret’s name was casually changed by Mrs. Cullinan, “That’s too long she’s Mary from now on”(Maya 6).

Margaret reciprocated by taking her revenge upon Mrs. Cullinan. Margaret struggles between Mary and Margaret, Margaret her true self, a free person, an individual, and Mary, a menial laborer, a servant inferior to Mrs. Cullinan, a person who toyed with Margaret’s name as if it was her possession. Rodriguez on the other hand, shaved his arms to change his skin complexion, to get away from being stereotyped and opinionated as a menial laborer by his relatives, due to his dark skin.

Rodriguez’s relatives often spoke of his complexion, “In my mind I heard the swirling voices of aunts, and even my mother’s voice, whispering, whispering incessantly about lemon juice solutions and dark, feo children”(Rodriguez 455), in his culture, lemon juice was believed to lighten a persons skin.

Rodriguez’s mother would habitually use this treatment on him, the only actual thing this remedy did, was make Rodriguez feel even more of an outcast, more ashamed of his true self. The difference, however, between Angelou and Rodriguez was that Rodriguez’s dilemma wasn’t his skin complexion, but what others thought of his skin complexion, for instance Rodriguez illustrates, “I didn’t consider my dark skin to be a racial characteristicI judged myself ugly I felt my dark skin made me unattractive to women. “(Rodriguez 455), unlike Rodriguez, Angelou was confident enough in herself to speak of Mrs. Cullinan in a demeaning way, “Mrs. Viola Cullinan was a plump womanher face looked like the mask of an impish elf. “(Maya 4) this shows that Margaret’s attitude is different than that of Rodriguez, Rodriguez didn’t once speak negatively about anyone, while in fact, he was spoken of in a negative way.

Racism also played a role on both Rodriguez’s and Angelou’s lives. An incident that shows discrimination in Angelou’s essay is when Angelou mentions the segregated dishes, “I had a glass to drink from, and it sat with Miss Glory’s on a separate shelf from the others. Maya 4), this shows that Mrs. Cullinan was racist and she showed it openly through the act of segregation.

Rodriguez experienced a different kind of discrimination, when he was young, he was a victim of racist name calling, “A teenager drove past shouting, Hey, Greaser! Hey, Pancho! , I pee on dirty Mexicans. “(Rodriguez 450), this was an obvious attack on Rodriguez’s complexion and culture, but he didn’t take any action towards the prejudice he received from his schoolmates.

I would be paralyzed with embarrassment, unable to return the insult”(Rodriguez 450), he didn’t react to such a clear act of racism because he was smart and thought of the consequences. Angelou on the other hand, took matters into her own hands and broke the dishes, which represented the boundary between their class and race; this is an ideal example of the difference between Rodriguez and Angelou.

The people Rodriguez knew also experienced racism, ” my brother wasthe head of the familyhe did construction workdigging all day, doing the dirtiest job sometimes they promised him one salary and paid him less when he finished. Rodriguez 451), the unskilled immigrants were often mistreated and taken advantage of, Rodriguez’s later mentioned that his father also went through the same kind of prejudice. Angelou also mentions racism during her time, “While white girls learned to waltz and sit gracefully we were lagging behind, learning the mid-Victorian values” (Maya 3), when she says “we” she is talking of young black girls. The quote compares the education of a typical young white girl to a young black girl during that time.

In conclusion, the reason for their action towards their situation was the direct cause of the pressure on an individual caused by society’s outlook on them. One was treated like a subservient and the other treated and thought to be menial laborer. They both dealt with their conflict in different manners, by the way Rodriguez overcame his obstacles Rodriguez would seem more reflective and thoughtful, Margaret, however, would appear to be more headstrong, not thinking of consequences and other peoples feelings.

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