At what point can one hold a writer responsible for being racist in his life and in his literature? When he knows better? Can we even hold a writer as being a racist in his life? But what of in his literature. If he knows better? But what if he doesn’t know better?
I’m reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “A Diamond as Big as the Ritz”–I pause every time he mentions “negroes” and “darkies”, when they are presented as dim wits. But here’s the thing, he wrote this exquisite story, which is being enjoyed by this reader in 2014, in the 1920s. Can he have known better then?
I am thinking, of course, of the sparking incident that formed this thing I am unashamed to say I write within–African writing. I mean the seismic shift Chinua Achebe wrought at the expense of the already then dead Joseph Conrad, especially his “The Heart of Darkness”, a novel of immense beauty written by a writer of far greater talents than even F. Scott Fitzgerald here. The younger man’s charge of his elder being a “thoroughgoing racist”.
I’ve been bothered a long time about children, how merciless they can be, how pitiless our executioners they are. Yet, I have often wondered what the wars of my fathers were, I’ve wanted, a curiousity, to walk in their boots, to carry their guns scared and cold and reenter their whys and becauses. My children will, as children will, do as they please concerning me–understand or misunderstand in their fashion. All I can do is try, in my fashion.
But, concerning Fitzgerald and I, and Conrad and Achebe, at what point can I who know better raise a finger and call out? At what point can I hold F. Scott Fitzgerald responsible for the racism in his beautiful literature?