The reality of modern life is such that every person in this way or another tries to find relief in something. For me, it is literature that helps to understand the world better, to adjust to it, and not to get lost in the numerous problems life presents us with.
I have noticed that every piece of literary work reflects the society that the characters are destined to live in. One can hardly neglect the significance of the close interconnection between the characters and society. Claude McKay‘s Crazy Mary is one of the books that reflects the close interconnection between the characters and the society they are destined to live in.
Reading McKay’s work we observe how Mary’s (the protagonist’s) character undergoes changes under the influence of society. Her problem is introduced just as the story starts:
Miss Mary startled the village for the first time in her strange life that day when she turned herself up and showed her naked self to them. Suddenly the villagers realized that after many years of harmless craziness something was perhaps dangerously wrong with Mary, but before they could do anything about it she settled the matter herself (McKay 192).
The reader is introduced to a drastic change in the main character’s life: Miss Mary has transformed from the respected sewing-mistress of the village school to the mad person whose behavior was hardly understood by society. After a series of events when her suitor, the village schoolmaster is accused of impregnating a student, of being betrayed by the lover, and being humiliated by the villages she loses her mind. Miss Mary’s madness results in the suicide she commits. I am inclined to think that both madness and suicide were a sort of response to the narrow-mindedness of her society. Though suicide is commonly regarded as an act of weak people I believe that in this particular case the position is not justified.
Miss Mary showed herself as a strong character when she made the student confess that the schoolmaster had not touched her and when she gave an account of Freshy’s confession. “Speaking quietly in her refined way and holding all attention with her pretty personality, she was almost convincing the whole meeting.” (McKay 195) My point is that a morally weak person is not capable of convincing others of one’s righteousness no matter how persuaded he or she is. The other thing is that Miss Mary’s strength was ruined by the pressure that society had on her. The writer managed to show how influential public opinion maybe when it is directed against a person not protected by anyone. Miss Mary was alone in her sorrow and no one attempted to help her. It seems that even a single loving or at least respecting heart could have saved her life.
The main character found killing herself the best way out in the situation she occurred. The author showed how a strong character can be defeated by the oppressive power of society which becomes unanimous in its lack of faith in one’s moral principles and his or her firmness of character. This often happens in a society that does not have any moral principles at all. The village was just “shaken as if by an earthquake” by the news about the schoolmaster, but they kept on listening to the subjective testimonies of both parties during the church meetings without making adequate conclusions analyzing the results of the doctor’s examination of the student (McKay 194).
I cannot but sympathize with Miss Mary in her grief. What deepens the problem is my understanding of the fact that the character’s tragedy is not a rare thing in any society. When one’s individualism becomes a person’s feature, society often initiates the “hunt” for this person. Without the needed help from people around this person is destined to lose his or her moral strength and fall defeated by public opinion.
I believe that the character of Miss Mary from McKay’s Crazy Mary is a symbol of the devastating impact of the oppressive society. The short story made me think of my own attitude to the problem “personality-society” and work out a set of principles not to become a victim of the society I live in. This is where the main significance of the work is rooted and, at the same time, this is the main reason why the book appealed to me.
Goldweber, David. “HOME AT LAST: The Pilgrimage of Claude McKay.”1999: 11.
McKay, Claude. Short Stories. Kingertown, 1932.