Percival Everett’s book Erasure is one of the eye-opening literary works as it shed light on stereotypes and true experiences of African American people whose lives can be very different. The novel is a story of an African American writer, Thelonious ‘Monk’ Ellison whose intellectual works are rejected by publishers who say that the writing is not ‘black’ enough.
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At the same time, the protagonist is angry as he sees that stories about impoverished black people living in ghettos are positively accepted by publishers and readers. The protagonist does not like the way African American writers who speculate on one side of African American experience and create one-sided image of the whole ethnicity. The writer decides to write a novel which will be a parody of any of ‘traditional’ African American stories.
This book becomes successful as it is understandable for the reader and the protagonist has to solve numerous personal issues to come to terms with himself. It is necessary to note that the main focus of the book is made on the concept of identity and the protagonist is trying to understand how to live in the world which attributes certain identity to him.
Importantly, the protagonist knows who he is so he wants to make people understand that he (as well as thousands of African Americans) has nothing to do with the stereotypes created in American society. It is possible to trace this attempt through analysis of the two main characters of the novel.
Thelonious Ellison ‘Monk’
As has been mentioned above, Monk is a writer who can hardly publish his works. His works are intellectual and they simply do not fit the rest of the highly promoted but rather one-sided African American literature. It is noteworthy that ‘Monk’ knows exactly who he is. The first page of his book is his –self-portrait. However, he describes himself in a very specific way. First, he tells how others see him.
He writes, “… the society in which I live tells me I am black; that is my race” (Everett 1). Nonetheless, ‘Monk’ also stresses that he does not have characteristic features which are often attributed to blacks. He is “no good at basketball” but “good at math”, he cannot dance, and his parents were doctors and he “did not grow up in an inner city or the rural south” (Everett 1).
He knows that he is an intellectual who likes Ancient Greek and English literature. ‘Monk’ understands that he does not fit into the African American world which is created by media, society and African American literature. The protagonist destroys all possible stereotypes about African Americans.
At the same time, this character shows that the African American world is not that homogeneous. The created character is an illustration of another black. ‘Monk’ hates those people who speculate on sorrows of some part of African Americans. For example, he does not like books like Native Son which depict the life of impoverished blacks (Everett 61).
Monk’s anger increases whenever he thinks about the writers who often come from middle-class families who do not know that group of blacks. ‘Monk’ wants to be heard and wants to show another reality. Moreover, he wants to make this reality as well-accepted as the other reality which is hyped up by media.
This character makes the reader think of diversity in the world of African Americans. ‘Monk’ wants everyone who has the same experiences to stop hiding behind the images promoted by society. The protagonist feels he is a stranger in the world of whites but he is never black enough in the world of African Americans.
‘Monk’ can be regarded as an image of a different black and he wants to make similar blacks unveil their experiences which are as valuable and important as any other experience. Of course, Everett wants to show how stereotyped American society is and the stigma African Americans have to bear.
Van Go Jenkins
Van Go Jenkins is a complete opposite to ‘Monk’. It is possible to say that Van Go is a combination of stereotypes about African Americans. Van Go is hardly educated or even literate person who is against society. He does not care about anybody but he keeps saying he takes care of his “babies” (Everett 114). Van Go is very aggressive and he is ready to “kick all asses” (Everett 113).
He is a criminal and outcast. Actually, this is a ‘conventional’ African American for lots of people. When talking about blacks, people tend to have someone like Van Go in their heads. It is noteworthy that Van Go thinks that being on TV is great luck for him and he strives for such popularity. The author stresses the role of media in the creation of stereotypes about African Americans.
Importantly, Van Go is a complete fiction and non-existing person. He is a creation within fictional writing. It is possible to assume that the writer wants to emphasize that such stereotypic people hardly exist in real life or their number is limited. Van Go is an illustration of a black as he is seen by the rest of the world. This character is also an illustration of ridiculous stereotypes which cannot exist in real life.
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The author wants to make people admit that African Americans are different just like other ethnic groups. Development of every person is affected by numerous factors (social, economic, political and so on). There are criminals among African Americans and there are criminals among whites. Therefore, Van Go is a combination of stereotypes which are put to the fore to ridicule them.
On balance, it is possible to state that Everett depicts two characters to draw people’s attention to diversity among African Americans. The author tells the story of ‘Monk’ who is a real person, an intellectual, a different black. It is clear that there are thousands of similar people who do not correspond to the created stereotypes. The author also depicts Van Go (who is a fictional character created by ‘Monk’) and who is a combination of stereotypes about blacks.
Everett’s book is a depiction of stereotypes and a call for a new perspective. The author does not want to ‘be not black enough’ as he is proud of his identity, and he is eager to share his experiences and his viewpoints. He wants to show that blacks are not only criminals and people from ghettos. Such books will make American society understand that it is time to be open to the diverse experiences of African Americans.
Everett, Percival L. Erasure. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2011. Print.