‘I was attracted to the guns, because the guns seemed honest’
Survival, understanding, growing, love.
Between the World and Me covers the lifespan of the author growing from the streets of Baltimore, depicting his struggles brought on by his colour and his striving attempt to break out and understand another life. Written as a heartbreaking message to his son, the novel follows the Coates’ growing discoveries, realisations and understanding of the world as it truly is, as he attempts to explain to his son the realities of life.
In lue of the name of the novel, Coates emphasises throughout how separate his world is from all others. His shocking, and altogether eye opening speech, begins by lending perspective to the crime-ridden lives of many black people within America. What at first appeared mindless acts of violence from the gun wielding youth of America are thereby given a logical explanation and humanity which none other than those who grew with it could truly understand.
Whilst Coates does inform how violence at home indeed equates to violence in life, he highlights this as a necessity, an intrinsic part to life for so many, that in his telling it begins to seem even appropriate. The book has a striking core message: the slavery of the black people of America has clearly not ended, it has merely been subjected to the humility of the label of freedom.
Coates speaks of those who ‘wish to be white’, a fact itself which emphasises the difference between the two races still prevalent today. People wish to be white in order not to be black. They console themselves to the appeal of the great ‘dream’, in order to be happy yet blind to the rest of the world about them. The sober voice of a father speaking to his son suggests a great wisdom, but one born indeed of a life of and by the streets, through the torments of brutality and violence, all the while with the potential to be so much more.
From the outset is an impressive array of thought provoking meaningful phrases, indeed as I read this I felt near every line could be quoted with significant purpose. This was certainly a great awakening to the truth of this ongoing plight.
“They made us into a race. We made ourselves into a people”
The novel tackles a lot of prevalent issues still in American society today, such as police brutality, however it’s overall message is one much more touching than the difficult life the speaker has led should really hold at its end.
Indeed, he ultimately draws to an acceptance that he did indeed belong to a culture of his own, a black culture, but that this basis need not bind him to remain only in circulation within this. Such a notion is something to certainly be considered by all. By nature as animals we tend to feel linked to others of similar feature and appearance to ourselves. This is a defense mechanism: You are like me, thus we shall protect one another. However, in today’s age such links, such communities and cultures, need not be determined only by skin. Sexual orientation, religion, occupation. These are all intrinsic grouping factors within the human race, a means for us to determine where we are in life and who we can turn to with like-mindedness. Where this becomes a problem, and what Coates is indeed trying to say, is that these invisible lines are not solid, they are permeable. They must be easily crossed for humanity to avoid conflict within itself (cannibalism is a powerful term which Coates uses in relation to such destruction).
For a powerful short novel, and to gain your own understanding of what indeed stands ‘between the world’ and some groups within our shared earth, this is a highly recommended read.
Length: 176 (Spiegel and Grau)
Overall Rating: 5 stars
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