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Comparisons And Contrasts
James Baldwin has shaped characters some of who are alike in their situations, while others create contradictions among them. Florence and Elizabeth resemble each other in their plight, just as Frank and Richard are alike in their natures. On the other hand, Esther and Deborah are pictures of contrast, while Florence and Gabriel are unlike each other in their attitude and beliefs.
Florence And Elizabeth Florence and Elizabeth are unfortunate women who do not get the love they deserve and are deprived of the happiness due to them. Florence sacrifices her childhood and youth, looking after Gabriel and doing housework. She forgoes education in order to send Gabriel to school and help her mother at home. After her mother falls ill, she shoulders the burden of attending to her sick mother and working outside to earn a living. For all her service and dedication, her mother and brother take her for granted and fail to acknowledge her worth. And when she leaves home to escape the advances of her White master and preserve her chastity, her mother and brother take it amiss.
In New York, she meets Frank and marries him with the belief that he
would give her love and security. Frank loves her but does not bother
to take care of her needs. He spends all his money and leaves her to fend
for herself and the house. All her attempts to reform Frank and make him
understand his responsibilities towards their home fails and she is forced
to show him the door. Florence is unsuccessful in love and marriage. When
she needs company and comfort, she is denied them and left to lead a lonely
and miserable life.
The plight of Elizabeth is similar to that of Florence. In childhood, she loves her father but is snatched away from him. In youth, she falls in love with Richard and decides to live with him in a strange city. She bears his child out of wedlock but refrains from telling Richard about it. In the process, she suffers the consequence of her foolishness. Richard gets implicated falsely and is punished unjustly. Unable to bear the insult, he commits suicide and leaves Elizabeth at lurch. Elizabeth loses the man she loves and is made to raise her child all by herself. She is punished for her love for Richard and left to struggle in a cruel world.
Later, she meets Gabriel and falls in love with him. She believes him to be loving and caring. However, after marriage she becomes aware of the whims and prejudices of Gabriel. She feels helpless to protest against his autocratic behaviour and resigns herself to the situation. For all her contribution to their home, Gabriel has not a kind word to say to her. Thus, once again the man she had loved is unable to provide her security and peace. She is as unlucky in love as Florence and betrayed by life.
Frank And Richard Frank and Richard are both weak characters who succumb to the pressures of life. They are insecure Negroes who feel threatened by the power of the Whites and find escape routes to forget their fears. Frank loves Florence and promises to respect her wishes but forgets all his responsibilities as he hits the bottle. He apologizes only to commit the mistake again. He, thus, fails to provide her security or harmony in marriage. And when Florence asks him to get out of her life in disgust, he goes away and starts living with another woman. Instead of improving himself and rectifying his life, he defies the codes of life.