Chapter One Power Fields Dominated by White People
1.1 The regulation of the White towards the Black in Parchman
The prison as an administrative institution is usually with the gaze of power. In Sing, Unburied, Sing, Parchman as a prison, the majority of inmates at there are Blacks. At there, the gaze from the Whites is ubiquitous, and the Blacks are under a long-term control. According to Foucault’s theory of gaze and power,
Gaze is, first and foremost, a way of seeing, a projection of gaze, a kind of surveillance, and a vision act imposed on an object by the subject. The objects of gazing can be visible things or invisible things, because for the latter one, invisible things also have the visibility. (Zhu 39)
In Parchman, some White inmates could be promoted to be gunmen or the trusty shooters for their good performance, though they may beat, stabbed or killed other people in the past. They would be given guns to oversee the other Black prisoners, making the Blacks work under their surveillance every day. “Each one surrounded by a barbed-wire fence. Wasn’t no brick, wasn’t no stone” “There was a couple thousand men separated into work farms over all acres” (Ward 24). In Parchman, the Black inmates are the men living in the White-made “panopticon”, and under the surveillance sight from countless trusty shooters and wardens. The word “panopticon” is coined by the British prison reformer Jeremy Bentham. The prison is a circular architecture. In this circular prison, power can consume the least amount of energy, use the easiest way to distribute the space of personnel, so this architectural figure becomes a model of power intervention. “It is an important mechanism, for it automatizes and disindividualizes power” (Foucault 202). In the Whites’ gaze process, trusty shooters and wardens treat Blacks “like a plowing horse, like a hunting dog—and bred to think he can make you like it” (Ward 24). The surveillance and labor arrangements for Black prisoners make Blacks internalize the Whites’ evaluation, and gradually lose their subjectivity as human beings.
1.2 The judgment of the death of Given in the court
The oppression of the Whites’ gaze on black people is not only found in prisons, but can also be found in the court. In the eyes of racists, Black people represent barbarism, ignorance, and backwardness. Because of this stereotype, many Black men are denied the opportunity to display their talents or are often suppressed when they have the opportunity to do so. In Sing, Unburied, Sing, Given is shot by Michael’s cousin for he wins the game and shows his excellent hunting skills. Even in the court, Givens’ families are oppressed by the gaze from the White men, so they have to give up pursuing further.
Given, Leonie’s older brother, is tall, muscular, and good at playing ball as well as socializing. When Given shares his plans to attend the party with his White and Black teammates in Kill, River warns him not to go, “They look at you and see difference, son. Don’t matter what you see. It’s about what they do” (Ward 43). In River’s view, the White men are in the subject position in society, always holding the discourse and gazing at the Blacks unfriendly. River spent a long time in Parchman and was left a lifetime of miserable memories. His Black identity subjectivity has mostly disintegrated in prison, and his past encounters make him realize that the Black race was not equal to the White race. More specifically, the White is superior to the Black. So he teaches his children not to go to White people’s party. In the power field dominated by the White people, even though Given performs as well as his White friends in some aspects, he may not receive equal respect because of the color of his skin. Since the external biological attribute of White skin constitutes a symbol of privilege in the long-term social construction.
Chapter Two Power Fields Dominated by Black People
2.1 River’s anti-gaze
After a long period of the White’s subjugation and domination, the Black prisoners become subservient, lose themselves to the oppression of wardens’ power, and submit to the power status of the White guards. River, however, is different. He is brave to confront the oppressive gaze and words of White guards, and he is not afraid of the racial oppression of power. In the novel, Kinnie is a White prisoner who used to be in charge of dogs. He had done many illegal things and even killed people before, while many poor White people in the South love him because he dares to defy and break the law. Kinnie is a big, athletic man who rides a horse and leads dogs to manage Black prisoners in Parchman. When other Black prisoners see him, some of them are scared to run away, and some of them are even scared to knee down. But River does not. He goes on with his work whether Kinnie or other sergeants, because he has his own dignity, “Took as much time as I could, because he was the type of man who expected me to run. To look at his big, healthy Whiteness in awe” (Ward 63). River feels that even in prison, even White and Black, legendary and ordinary, guards and prisoners should be equal in ordinary life, so there is no need to fear the intangible power oppression or to flatter the status position of White guards. So River bravely walks up to Kinnie, not running, not getting too close to Kinnie, keeping a distance from him to avoid being kicked by Kinnie’s horse. However, Kinnie put pressure on River’s brave approaching. He glares at River with blue eyes and aims his gun at River, “But do you know your place?” (Ward 64) Even in the face of further probing and gun pressure from Kinnie, River shows no fear, he replies, “Yes, sir” (Ward 64). When facing Kinnie’s gaze and the oppression of power, River does not adopt an evasive attitude, but frankly accepts the pressure of his opponent’s gaze and words, maintaining the dignity that a Black individual should have.
2.2 Richie’s anti-gaze
Richie is also a rebel against the racial gaze. He is the youngest inmate in Parchman for stealing a piece of bacon. Even though he is the youngest, mentally and physically immature, he receives no gentle treatment in prison and is bullied by sergeants and other inmates. “Got a lot of men in there ain’t so friendly. Then and now. It’s full of wrong men. The kind of men that feel better if they do something bad to you. Like it eases something in them” “They beat you in there. Some people look at boys our age and see somebody they can violate. See somebody who got soft pink insides” (Ward 137). There is a reason for Richie’s escape——he is brutally abused and wantonly hazed in prison. For example, he is beaten out of blood like a filleted fish for carelessly breaking a hoe, and is given only one day to recuperate and then must go back to work; Hogjaw bullies him because he is young and weak; other people whether sergeant, gunmen or inmates bully him because he is young and innocent. Faced with discrimination and hazing from his White overseers, Richie chooses to run away when he is alive. But when he died and becomes a wisp of a ghost, He chooses to uncover the truth about his death and exposes the viciousness and bullying mentality of White gazers and racists, which is a way to defend the racial gaze. Even though it would be very painful to look back upon the bloody truth of history, by doing that Ritchie is able to put his soul to rest and frankly let his soul go home. In other words, Ward portrays the cruelty and indifference of White racists through the story line of Richie’s digging up the truth about his death, so that readers can understand the cruel treatment suffered by the Black people, which could inspire the society to reflect on it.
Chapter Three The Significance Reflected by the Transformation of Power Fields ........................... 38
3.1 The resistance of Black people to racial discrimination .................. 38
3.2 The integration of Black people into American society .................. 41
Conclusion .................................. 45
Chapter Three The Significance Reflected by the Transformation of Power Fields
3.1 The resistance of Black people to racial discrimination
Racial discrimination is the unjust or unfair treatment of individuals or groups based on their race or ethnicity. This type of discrimination can manifest in various forms, such as denial of access to education, employment, or housing, or being treated differently by law enforcement or the criminal justice system. Racial discrimination is a violation of human rights and can have negative effects on individuals’ physical and mental health, as well as their overall well-being. It has a long and complex history in America, dating back to the country’s founding. It has manifested in various ways throughout the years, from slavery and segregation to more subtle forms of discrimination and bias. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s brought significant progress towards racial equality, with landmark legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Black Americans and other people of color often face systemic barriers and biases that limit their opportunities and perpetuate racial inequality.
In this novel, through the transformation of the flow of the power field, Blacks are transformed from the gazed into the gaze subjects who resist the White’s gaze, and they do so in order to achieve resistance to the racial gaze, and furthermore, to racial discrimination. In River’s narrative, he recalls the history of cruelty and humiliation suffered by the Black community from the Black’s eyes. The grandparents of River and Stag randomly change the number of kids and never register kids’ births. Because White officials treat the Black population like slaves and livestock, “Said them people came around sniffing out that information to control them, to cage them like livestock” (Ward 21). Secondly, Stag and River are arrested and jailed after the fight with a White soldier (actually, the White Navy starts first) in a bar, and are hypocritically, and viciously, threatened when being taken away, “You boys is going to learn what it means to work, they said.
The topic of race is an important part of American literature, especially in Southern American literature. Through its unique narrative techniques, Sing, Unburied, Sing describes the long-standing racial discrimination and injustice suffered by the Black people in Southern America. Under the oppressive power of racial gaze, Blacks directly or indirectly feel uncomfortable and begin to unconsciously discipline themselves and objectify themselves. The surveillance of White guards in Parchman makes Black prisoners lose their subject identities, and they gradually degenerate into soulless slaves. The power oppression of the gaze imposed by the White men represented by Big Joseph in the court forces the families of the Black victims to give up continuing their complaints. Big Joseph’s racial gaze on his Black daughter-in-law Leonie causes her to internalize the view of White superiority and thus exhibit inferiority and cowardice due to her racial identity. What’s more, Big Joseph’s gaze contains patriarchal oppression, making Leonie a member of a voiceless group. Sing, Unburied, Sing is filled with the power fields formed by the White gaze, in which the Black community suffers from different degrees of racial discrimination and power oppression.
Where there is oppression of power, there is resistance. River takes action to protect Richie from abuse and brutal execution. Richie searches for memories of his past in the form of a ghost to expose the evils and brutality of racism and slavery. Leonie’s consciousness awakens to the hypocrisy and arrogance of Big Joseph and other White men through anti-gaze, eliminating the notion that Whites are superior to Blacks. In the power field formed by the Black people, Blacks expose the false and sinful side of White civilization in their own way. At the same time, they turn from the objects being gazed and disciplined to subjects to gaze, grabbing the power of discourse in the hands of Black people.