You Do You, I’ll Do Me
In the poems, “Tableau” by Countee Cullen and “Theology” by Paul Laurence Dunbar, and in the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, there is a theme of social norm. Social norm or conformity is controlled by society. Society either rejects or accepts you into its conformist cult. In the “Tableau” there are two people walking together of different races that are trying to escape the grasp of society. These two people fight against the norm of the same race being with the same race. They are stared at and talked about by everyone in the town. The monster in Frankenstein deals with the polar opposite problem. The monster wants to learn the ways of society and normal behavior in hopes to achieve acceptance from humans. In “Theology” the speaker talks about his neighbors who deserve to go to hell. The causes of these hateful feelings are not stated but it raises the issue of whether people who judge others based on uncontrollable factors should go hell. The grasp of social norms accepts and rejects people based on looks giving them a reputation that could land the members of society in hell.
In Countee Cullen’s “Tableau”, there are two people, one who is black and one who is white, that are walking arm in arm around a town. For most people, there is nothing wrong with the scene just described. Though, in “Tableau” the social norm of whatever town “Tableau” takes place in is broken. The interracial interaction is frowned upon by both the African American people and the white people. Cullen shows the reader this when she writes, “From lowered blinds the dark folk stare, and here the fair folk talk”. The black people in the town watch these two people walk around from behind their blinds so they cannot be seen spying on the two people. Since the people are hiding, they feel something is out of place because people do not watch normal things during the day through their blinds. Also, the other indication that social norms are being crossed is that the white people are talking. Usually, if two people walk by you, you will not give attention to them if you do not know them. In this case, the white people of the town feel a need to talk about the two people walking arm in arm. People are influenced by the status quo or social norms every day and it takes a decent amount of courage to live above it. When you do live above it, people will try and drag you down and bring you back. The two people in “Tableau” live above the social norms and experience society disgusted with them for not conforming.
In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the exact opposite behavior exists. The monster that Victor creates escapes the apartment of Victor and begins living in the wilderness. The monster starts to learn the different ways of the world. He discovers the heat from fire is comforting but burns when he touches it. He learns what food he can eat and that putting it over fire makes it better to eat. Then, he stumbles upon some humans in a hut. He starts stealing their food but then stops because he feels guilty. Soon, he starts observing them through a hole in the hut. The monster wants to learn the language and the behavior of the humans. He learns the language of the people and learns about their history. The monster is studying the people because he wished to be a part of them. Due to his deformed and ugly feature, he is lonely and would love to fit right into society if he could. This is the opposite idea that is presented in “Tableau”, where the two people walking arm in arm were trying to be nonconformists. The monster in Frankenstein would gladly conform but cannot because society does not accept people who look different. If you look different, society rejects you but if you look and act normal society will suck you in.
In Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s “Theology”, the poem expresses the existence of a heaven and hell. The speaker knows of a heaven because the, “upward longing if my soul doth tell me so.” The author has a deep feeling inside of him that heaven does exist because his soul wants to go there. The author also gives evidence that there is a hell as well. He says there must be hell because he does not know where else his neighbors would go. The speaker obviously feels that his neighbors are people who deserve to be sent down to hell when they pass away. These neighbors certainly have wronged the speaker or someone the speaker knows well because these are very strong and critical statements. The reason for such hatred is never stated. Though in the previous poem and novel, social norms are set and acted on. The rejecting of people based on their looks or who they walk with. Do these people share hell with the neighbors of the speaker in “Theology”? The people who make up society reject people based on factors they cannot control or factors that should not matter. They cause people to feel lonely and isolated.
So in mediation, I thought about this idea of society and conformity applied in my own life. I thought about if I was deformed in such a way that the monster was in Frankenstein. I had trouble trying to find out whether I was apart of society or not. Part me said I was because I wear name brand clothing, sometimes, and I like a lot of the same music as people but at the same time I feel like I am just being me. I do not let other people influence my decisions but I just so happen to make the same decisions as other people. So I put myself in the shoes of the monster and of the two people in “Tableau” to try and picture what life would be like. I used real life examples in my life of when I felt isolated to recreate the feeling. The feeling was horrible. Just the idea of it was tough to deal with. The loneliness and isolation all based on things you cannot control. It’s shallow of people to act in such a way and yet we all have probably done it at one point or another.In the “Tableau” by Countee Cullen, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, and “Theology” by Paul Laurence Dunbar, they all deal the treatment or mistreatment of others. “Tableau” tells of two people of opposite races being isolated because of their want to be together. Frankenstein tells of a monster who is trying to learn the language and norms of society. “Theology” calls into the question the behavior of people and the punishment that should ensue, hell. They all contain people who do not act morally towards others. It does not surprise me that people have forgotten the old cliché spoken in kindergarten; treat others as you would like to be treated.