critical analysis

Critical Analysis of a Short Story (Eng 101 Essay)

So I had to write a critical analysis essay on a short story for my English 101 (critical thinking) class, so I figured I’d put it up on here. Since I know that not everyone has read the story I wrote the essay on, I’m also including a link to the story: “How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie” by Junot Diaz

And , without further adeau, my essay:

Uncle Tomming

     The short story “How to date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie” was written by Junot Diaz, a writing professor at MIT (Colbert Report), and follows the seeming advice of the narrator as he walks the reader through exactly how a date will or should go with a “Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie.” In this story, the narrator addresses the reader in a very casual sort of “how-to” language, and uses specific situations and language to support the ideas presented in the narrative, and to make a bold, yet subtle statement about racism in America:

Dinner will be tense. You are not good at talking to people you don’t know. A halfie will tell you that her parents met in the Movement, will say, Back then people thought it a radical thing to do. It will sound like something her parents made her memorize. Your brother once heard that one and said, Man, sounds like a whole lot of Uncle Tomming to me. Don’t repeat this.

[…] Black people, she will say, treat me real bad. That’s why I don’t like them. You’ll wonder how she feels about Dominicans. (99)

The narrator begins by addressing the reader as “you,” which he does throughout the entirety of the text. The very casual language he utilizes, such as “You are not good at talking to people you don’t know” implies a familiarity with the listener. This has the function of making the reader feel more comfortable with the narrator, and making them more open to the internal messages of the text. When he says “Your brother once heard that one,” he relates to someone whom the reader may feel a close connection to. Even if the reader doesn’t necessarily have a brother, the idea of a brother further implants that idea of loyalty and closeness. The narrator supplements this sense of trustworthiness by using confident language: a repetitive use of “will be,” “will tell,” “will sound,” etc., gives a sense that he knows—for sure—what he is talking about.

Once the reader has been led to feel an attachment with the narrator, they are more easily receptive to the messages thrown into the text. Here he mentions “the Movement,” which is referring to the African-American Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968), whose goal was to end racial segregation in the United States. This gets the reader thinking about a sensitive, political topic, even amidst a seemingly pointless (except for its entertainment value) story about a teenager trying to get laid. “Dinner will be tense,” shows the awkwardness between different peoples; in this case, it’s between not only a boy and a girl, but a “Dominican” and a “halfie.” Here, the narrator begins to mention the importance of “the Movement” to the girl (as well as her parents) by saying “It will sound like something her parents made her memorize.”

The narrator then states “Your brother[‘s]” response to her story: “Man, sounds like a whole lot of Uncle Tomming to me.” “Uncle Tomming,” is a reference to the culture-shaking novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which is a story about an African-American slave named Uncle Tom, and, according to Wikipedia, “helped lay the groundwork for the Civil War (Kaufman).” This reference to Uncle Tom is implied to have been taken offensively when the narrator says “Don’t repeat this” in response to the “halfie[‘s]” story. The implication that the “halfie” is upset by the comment is hinting at the sensitive subject of race and racial equality. The fact that “your brother” would say something like that also implies an amount of racial insensitivity amongst Americans, which shows that people are starting to look at these topics as something for the history books. The idea of racial inequality being something from a time long-passed is supported when the girl starts her story with “Back then,” showing that even she looks at it as old-news.

The idea that racial stereotypes aren’t a modern problem anymore is blatantly shown to be untrue throughout the entire essay with comments such as “the white ones are the ones you want” (98). Even the title implies significant differences in ethnicities and the way that people look at each other. When the girl states that “Black people […] treat me real bad,” the narrator again, is addressing the topic of racism as a very real problem for many Americans—something that stems from all peoples, and breeds only negative emotions: “That’s why I don’t like them” is an example of those feelings. These general statements such as “Black people” and “I don’t like them” lump everyone of a single ethnicity into a single body, and shows one person’s feelings towards an entire people based—likely—on the actions of a few. Lastly, the narrator says “You’ll wonder how she feels about Dominicans.” This is another example of the negative feelings that are bred when the subject of racism is raised. The narrator addresses the worry that the listener might feel when put in a situation where someone has opinions about an entire people without intimately knowing the individuals. This goes back to the first line of the passage where the narrator says “Dinner will be tense,” where he then goes on to explain that what should be a pleasant date will turn into a minefield of sensitive topics.

“How to date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie” is—at first glance—an entertaining story about a person (presumably a young man by the language) explaining to the reader/listener how to successfully go on a date with girls of various ethnicities, and when accepted as nothing more than that, is quite entertaining. However, when the text is broken down and the internal messages are brought into light, this seemingly innocent story is revealed to be a very powerful statement about racial prejudices in America. The narrator shows that, while some people may consider racism something from the past, others still have strong feelings about the different peoples of America.

Works Cited

Diaz, Junot. “How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie.” Literature to Go. 2nd Ed.

Ed. Michael Meyer. Boston: Bedford St. Martin’s, 2014. 97-100. Print.

“Junot Diaz.” Colbertnation. Colbert Report, 25 March 2013. Web. 24 Feb 2014.

“Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 14 Feb. 2014. Web. 25 Aug. 2014.