By Luisa Vergani
Cliffs Notes on Divine Comedy: Inferno
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Additional resources for Dante's Divine Comedy: The Inferno (Cliffs Notes)
He reports knowing that this was very wrong and feeling confusion over the silence maintained by his teachers at this manifestation of racism. He waited in vain for someone in authority to disrupt this capitulation to the status quo. As a result, he came to experience this silence surrounding “America’s racial policies” as “his personal secret” (7–8), a stance that Thandeka found startling, given that she remembers experiencing segregation as a decidedly public phenomenon. Dan goes on to tell a story about how in college at the behest of his fraternity brothers he told a black student to leave the local chapter: With [Dan’s] .
The undermining of narrative authority that takes place in “Shooting an Elephant”—an admittedly complex undermining that ultimately affi rms through skepticism what it attempts to tear down—is an ironic strategy, one that Newkirk, as noted above, does rightfully identify as Orwell’s willingness “to show himself at his worst,” a rhetorical move of confession typical of the genre, and one, that I believe, becomes problematic for whiteness studies. For ultimately “Shooting an Elephant” becomes a tale less about the evils of empire and more about the narrator who tells the story, in much the same way that Heart of Darkness treats Africa as a backdrop for the narration of the individual European and how he is affected by colonialism: Orwell’s accomplishment in the essay is not his opposition to colonialism per se but rather his ability to “grasp the hollowness .
But from Thandeka’s standpoint, the source of the trauma is not racist feelings but rather the wound of separation that the “pre-white” child feels when it manifests preconforming feelings. The white community quickly teaches the child that such feelings are wrong, and the fear of exile from having disappointed family and community is what in reality accounts for the strong feelings of white shame in recollection. Thus failure to be white as a kind of original sin is at the emotional core of awareness narratives.