Illustrating the plights of African-Americans, Edward Jones’ story, “lost in the city” describes the discontentment of Africans amid the White community. Jones’ masterpiece focuses on the dangerous and poor lifestyle led by the African-Americans. Although the African-Americans know what is expedient for them, they choose unique lifestyles. For instance, Lydia, the main character, lives a reckless life by engaging in hard drugs, which eventually leaves her dissatisfied.
Similarly, Lydia’s mother dislikes the white community because of their presentation as the superior people. Using the main characters, Jones highlights the themes of immorality, racism, fear, and Christianity. Moreover, Jones uses literary tools like imagery, theme, allusion, and figurative language among others to draw the identity of the African-Americans in the society and how this identity, and its discontents, manifests themselves in African American literary texts.
In his story, Edward Jones’ highlights a number of themes, the first being racism. The African-Americans dislike and feel inferior in the eyes of the Whites who perceive them as objects. For instance, white men seduce the African-American women for casual sex.
During a conversation with a white man whom Lydia had spent the night with, he calls her Cynthia instead of Lydia. Surprisingly, Lydia says, “he does not even know my name “(Jones 387). In addition, the white men use expensive cologne, which is a symbol of power and success that only few people can afford (Jones 386).
Thus, the cologne not only separates the rich and the poor, but also the black and whites. Furthermore, the white man, who spends a night with Lydia, does not go with her to the hospital to view the body of her mother who had just passed on that night. When Lydia was a teenager, her first boy friend was white. The boyfriend declined to talk to her immediately after having sex with her.
Lydia says, “When he walked me back home after the ‘dirty deed’ was done, he acted like he did not know me anymore” (Jones 386), which means he only wanted her to fulfill his sexual desires. On one occasion, when Lydia wanted to buy her mother an apartment among the white community, the mother declined by saying, “I am not used to their ways” (Jones 386).
Therefore, due to poor relationship between the two groups each of them has separate residential apartments. When Lydia tells her mother that she has an apartment in the Southwest, she resists asserting that the white men always displace the blacks from their apartments. Similarly, Lydia does not remember the name of the man she spends the night with in her own apartment. Lydia tries to recall the name by saying, “What is his name “(Jones 386).
Gail Saunders complains about white men by asserting that, “I’II sleep no more with white men. They make you feel as you should be grateful” (Jones 388). The whites employed the black people, but paid them mediocre salaries, which could not cater for all their basic needs. Therefore, due to racism both whites and blacks not only live in different environments, but also detest each other.
Next is the theme of immorality and Edward uses Lydia to highlight the same. For instance, Lydia sleeps with different men who she records down in her diary. She meets the men either in bars or in social functions like dinner. She dislikes her way of life and fears the way the society will react if it discover about her sexual escapades.
For example, she showers thoroughly to make sure nobody realizes she had sex the night before her mother dies. She looks in the mirror and says’ “forgive me father for I have been fucking” (Jones 388). Similarly, her friend like Gail Saunders sleeps around with any man including the white men. Furthermore, Lydia and her friends abuse drugs.
The common drug used to relax their nerves is cocaine. The author writes, “With the gold razor blade, she spread out the cocaine on the black marble tray then inhaled a line of tow inches or so” (Jones 388). The black people are slaves to hard drugs, which utterly interferes with their level of intelligence.
The African-Americans live in fear. They fear death and the society’s perception about them. Lydia is addicted to cocaine, which ensures she faces obstacles or misfortunes in her life. When her mother dies, she takes several shots of cocaine to calm her nerves. Likewise, her friend Gail comes to a decision to stop sexual relationships with white men immediately after taking cocaine.
When the phone rings at three in the morning to alert her about her mother’s death, she wakes up remarkably fast, but declines to answer the call for the first fifteen calls.
Instead of picking up the call, “she sat in the dark on the floor in front of the nightstand” (Jones 385). On the contrary, the white man in the bed continued sleeping soundly. Although she had slept with a stranger, the fear to face him again prompts her to refuse to go back to the bedroom after showering.
According to her mother, a telephone call, which comes past midnight usually, carries grim news, which explains why she does not pick the phone. Lydia’s mother fears rejection from the white people because she refuses to associate with them even as a neighbor. Therefore, African-Americans are not at peaceful in their own land and such poor-perception of their identity comes out clearly in Jones’ text.
Jones alludes from the bible thus bringing out the theme of Christianity or religion. For instance, Lydia, her mother, and Georgia visit Israel. Israel is one of the major landmarks in Christianity. Lydia’s mother refers to the place as “the holy land, the land of Jesus” (Jones 389). They visited Joseph’s carpentry shop, Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Jericho among others. The allusion from the bible describes the behavior of African-Americans as religious.
Ironically, as Lydia gives her mother a precious gift of visiting the holy land, she engages in evil activities like drug abuse and careless sexual adventures. After sleeping with a stranger, she chants a short prayer by saying, “forgive me father for I have been fucking” (Jones 388).
Therefore, the African-Americans practice a poor or unholy lifestyle, yet they know what the society expects from them. During the Easter celebrations, the preacher says’ “Jesus has risen” (Jones 389), which proves their religious character of the African-Americans. Despite the cold and dew, African Americans sought divine intervention, which was their only hope of survival.
Edward uses figurative language like metaphors and similes to describe the lifestyle of the African-Americans. During the opening of the story, Edward uses a simile to confirm the fear in black people’s lives. For instance, when referring to the telephone, which was ringing in the middle of the night, Lydia says, “Nothing rang the telephone like death in the middle of the night” (Jones 385).
The simile confirms that Africans not only fear death, but also darkness. However, the simile is a premonition of the news she was about to receive, because true to her words, after picking up the call she discovered her mother had died. Death is the last stage of all living things, but the African-Americans are unable to face it.
Jones also applies a number of metaphors in his story. For instance, “the exhaust fan made a low humming sound” (Jones 388). Lydia had adjusted her fan to cut the noise, but even the lowest sound always catches her attention. The dislike of the sound of the fan proves that the African-American lived in fear. Everything that surrounds them seems dangerous. Although a humming sound should relax a person’s nerves, Lydia finds it irritating.
Secondly Lydia says, “She saw the sun inching up, but she knew how deceptive the sun in Washington could be” (Jones 389). Lydia personalizes the sun by calling it a liar, which proves her deceptive way of life that everything around her, even nonliving objects, is untrustworthy.
Jones refers to Lydia’s addictive nature to cocaine by writing, “she did another line of cocaine” (389), which means she could not live without the hard drug. The metaphor reveals the weird lifestyle of the African-Americans despite their education level. Lydia is a lawyer by profession, but all through she uses cocaine despite the fact that she knows the far-reaching repercussions of such action.
Similarly, Georgia lives a reckless lifestyle while on a trip to Israel; she engages in alcohol drinking and Jones refers to it as “descending drunkenness” (390), which means most African-Americans are alcoholic. Furthermore, some of them have no respect to God because Georgia drinks heavily yet she is in Israel a ‘holy land’. Although Lydia was of African-American origin, she was beautiful. According to the linguistic professor, “the sun rose and set on her” (Jones 392).
The metaphor means that Lydia is not only beautiful, is also bright and radiant. Even the title “the lost city” is an example of a metaphor. The Oxford advanced learner’s dictionary defines ‘lost’ as a doom or no longer in possession (Hornby, Turnbull, Lea, Parkinson, Philips, Francis, Webb, Bull, and Ashby 702), which means the black people in Washington city live a hopeless life.
He personalizes Washington City; however, the city represents the people residing in it, both whites and the African-Americans. There is disunity, disrespect, and immorality among the people in Washington. The people in the city commit many sins thus the reason why Edward refers to Washington as a “lost city”.
Edward uses various symbols in his story. For example, Lydia’s mother refers to the whites as ‘sickly family’. She asserts that Lydia’s first boyfriend is from the ‘sickly family’ mainly because of his white skin color. She uses a similar phrase to refer to a linguistic professor.
Through Lydia’s mother, Jones highlights the vice of racism, which prevails in the American society. Both blacks and whites dislike each other’s presence, as it is clear by Lydia’s mother behavior. The author refers to the sexual intercourse as a “dirty deed”. Lydia engages in sexual activities at the early age defiling her body and purity.
The main character in Edward’s story is Lydia. Lydia’s behavioral conduct relates remarkably well to the title of the story Lost in the city. Although Lydia is a bright African-American woman, she is immoral, a criminal, and lacks self-respect. She engages in sexual relationships with men she barely knows, and some of them, she is unable to remember their names.
Moreover, she takes prohibited drugs like cocaine. According to the author, she is addictive because she sniffs the powder at regular intervals. Likewise, her friend Gail has the same behavior. Therefore, is Lydia a bad influence? In comparison with the title, Lydia is lost in her own home, country, and society. She cannot take charge of her own life, a fact that makes her cry due to dissatisfaction.
Lydia represents the African-Americans in the United States of America. Most of them are unhappy because of poverty, poor social lives, and rejection from the white society. Consequently, the rejection forces them to engage in criminal activities like drug abuse or prostitution.
In conclusion, the lost city is an allegorical story, which secretly condemns the disunity between blacks and whites in the society. Racism prevails in the society especially in the United States where the number of black people is soaring. The vice has forced the African-Americans to engage in criminal activities like drug abuse to enable them face the life obstacles like rejection.
Lydia is unhappy with her way of life because she occasionally chants prayers of forgiveness to God. Unfortunately, skin color, culture way of life, and wealth draw a line between the two races in the US. Therefore, by describing a single character, (Lydia), Jones raises the plights of the black community in the American society.
Hornby, Albert, et al. Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. 7th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. Print.
Jones, Edward. Lost in the city. USA: Amistad Press, 1992.