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The Themes of the American Dream, Racism, and White Privilege in Between the World and Me, a Novel by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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In the novel Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates writes to his son about such serious issues as the American Dream, racism, and white privilege in order to teach him how to survive in the world. He uses words that are complex, but rather inspiring, trying to describe his understanding of the world through his personal experiences and the experiences of other people. Ta-Nehisi Coates tells his story using specific narration in order to create a message of empowerment to his son, and as a mother, I will have shared that information with my child or children as well, because it is crucial for them to struggle through life and still thrive when I am not there to guide them. In the long run, my children, like Coates’s son, will be prepared and will be successful at what they do.

Throughout the novel, Coates discusses the concept of struggle and how it has impacted him. Specifically, at the beginning of this novel, he discusses the struggle of the African American community and how as a “ body” they continue to be bashed and belittled. However, in this section of the novel, he discusses in detail about the concept of the struggle through the experience of Dr. Jones. In this quote “There was no one else in the house.. [the] Christmas tree was still standing at the end of the room, and there were stockings bearing the name of her daughter and her lost son, and there was a framed picture of him — Prince Jones — on a display table” a meeting with Dr. Jones is pictured with a detailed description of a living room. He notices that there are pictures of her children, along with the one with her son who was killed by a police officer (Coates 136). This quotation shows such concepts as emptiness and hopelessness. As he walks into the living room to see that “no one else [is ] in the house,” this demonstrates a lonely presence of Dr. Jones’s life ( Coates 136). However, there is a stronger message that outweighs this lonely presence – a lesson, which learns that obstacles should not be in the way of living life. As the “Christmas tree was still standing.. bearing the name of a daughter and lost son” it shows that no matter they are no longer in Dr. Jones life physically, she continues to celebrate and live her life in remembrance of them ( Coates 136). The purpose of this message is to tell that struggle is necessary to move forward and in order to do that you have to embrace it. I would have similarly discussed this point the way the author did it, but with the personal experiences of my mother for she has been impactful throughout my entire life.

With this, Coates also uses Dr. Jones character to discuss the benefits of struggling and how this has impacted her. It is reflected in this quote “I felt [a power] in the presence of Dr. Jones. When she was in second grade, she and another girl made a pact that they would both become doctors, and she held up her end of the bargain. But first, she integrated the high school in her town. In the beginning, she fought the white children who insulted her. At the end, they voted her class president … [and] it brought her so far into their world” he discusses that the unspeakable strength she has been demonstrating since the childhood resonates with him and that she is a role model who will teach his son her strength and how he should carry himself. Specifically what this quote teaches readers and Coates’s son, in particular, is that it shows the importance of strength and ways how to overcome obstacles that may stop a person from giving all of their full potential to what matters to them most. As he describes that sticking to your “end of the bargain” it will make you a powerful individual for yourself and you would have “fought…who insulted” you ( Coates 139). Learning from the example is necessary to see things from a different perspective other than your own, especially those who are influential to you. Besides teaching my children about struggling through my mother’s example, I would also use my personal story to discuss the impact on struggle and how this has made me successful.

Body Paragraph: Communication

As it is important to direct these messages to readers and to the people that are influential, it is also important to maintain such relationships that can allow the teachings to inspire the listeners. Understandably, as Coates discusses these concepts, he makes the mistake of not discussing them with his son. Through the quote ”I have never asked how you became personally aware of the distance [between races]…but I know that it happened to you already, that you have deduced that you are privileged and yet still different from other privileged children, because you are the bearer of a body more fragile than any other in this country. What I want you to know is that this is not your fault, even if it is ultimately your responsibility” he confesses that he has made a mistake about not discussing him of what he knows about racism. However, he also discusses with his son the fact that because he is now informed about this, he reassures him that this is not his fault and he should not even be burdened by this (Coates 137). This is beneficial for teaching concepts like this to those you care about because it shows the importance of honest communication between families to maintain good relationships. As he notes that he has “never asked” him about the dark concepts that exist, he understands that this would have been essential to understanding his son’s approach to the world and these concepts ( Coates 137). Although he explains that he made this mistake, he also shows compassion toward his son as he explains to him that he is the “bearer of a body” ( Coates 137). Ideally, I would have already established friendly and honest relationships with my children because they are my everything and it is just a fundamental thing to do. However, maintaining this relationship is something I would learn from Coates because he is able to discuss with his son about these concepts openly and for him to be able to do that creates a bond between father and son.

Coates’s carefully selected diction and organization of Between the World and Me is beneficial for me to teach my children the same way like Coates teaches his son about the world and what he has learned from it. This reflective piece is taken from his own experiences and the experiences of those he feels his son will lead by example. As a mother, I would like to have my children learn through my reflections and the others I care about the rules of life.

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GradesFixer. (2018, October, 02) The Themes of the American Dream, Racism, and White Privilege in Between the World and Me, a Novel by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Retrived May 30, 2020, from
"The Themes of the American Dream, Racism, and White Privilege in Between the World and Me, a Novel by Ta-Nehisi Coates." GradesFixer, 02 Oct. 2018, Accessed 30 May 2020.
GradesFixer. 2018. The Themes of the American Dream, Racism, and White Privilege in Between the World and Me, a Novel by Ta-Nehisi Coates., viewed 30 May 2020, <>
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