Letter From Birmingham Jail And Prisoner Who Wore Glasses

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and Bessie Head’s “Prisoner Who Wore Glasses” are two literary examples that represent society’s struggle with racial inequality through the decades. As in Georgia Douglas Johnson’s poem, the main characters both fight for respect and equality despite “[having] seen as others saw their bubbles burst in air, [and having] learned to live it down as though they did not care.” Although difficult to embrace, tension is many times an important catalyst of lasting change, as evidenced in Head’s fictional narrative and Dr. King’s letter. “Prisoner Who Wore Glasses” and “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” may not bear similar genres, but they do share some common themes. In “Letter from a Birmingham…show more content…
Dr. King was writing a non-fiction essay explicitly to clergymen, while Head wrote her novel as a fictional encounter to touch upon issues relevant to society and her life. It’s clear that Dr. King and Head wrote with different motivations. The prologue of “Prisoner Who Wore Glasses” claims “Bessie herself suffered emotionally because of her mixed racial identity…” (Head 169) and that “her years under apartheid, [were] the source of many of the emotional scars she wrestled with for much of her adult life” (Head 170). Head writes to air her feelings of inferiority and abuse based on her race, relating her work primarily to her own experience. Yet, Dr. King writes to justify his methods behind the burgeoning civil rights movement. First and foremost, he fiercely defends the non-violent direct-action campaigns he’s inspired, but he also delves into the why the fight for racial equality is a timely and personal one. Not only does he mention personal experiences, “when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: ‘Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?’” (King paragraph 14) but also talks about tragedies that have happened to others, such as “when you [see] vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim” (King paragraph 14). King’s letter is intended to rally people of all races toward his cause, while Head seems to have a more resigned position, accepting her fate and simply relieving herself of her sorrows through her writing. Another interesting topic that the two pieces seem to diverge on is the idea of “self-purification” (King paragraph 6). Dr. King makes that claim that self-purification is an essential component of forming a non-violent direct-action campaign, sharing that “we decided to undertake a process of self-purification… we began a
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