The Marginalization Of Two Individuals: Junior And Shylock

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“The forgetting of the history of marginalized groups is both a cause and effect of their marginalization.” – Susan Jacoby. 

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Marginalization is the treatment of a person or group of people as insignificant and the act of pushing them to the edge of society. These actions are familiar to two characters in completely contrasting books. In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie, the main character, Junior, is a fourteen-year-old boy who lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Junior and his family, along with the others on the reservation, feel the daily effects of poverty and financial shortcomings. There is often not enough food to eat in their home or enough money to fill the gas tank in the car. Junior transfers from the school on the reservation to Reardan, where almost all the students are white. In The Merchant of Venice, by William Shakespeare, the main character Shylock is a Jewish moneylender. He lends Antonio money, on the condition that, if the loan cannot be repaid in time, Antonio will forfeit a pound of flesh. Antonio is reluctant to do business with Shylock, whom he despises for lending money at interest and because he is jewish. Junior and Shylock are both marginalized in a society based on the way they act and what they believe in; their way of being marginalized differs from each other because Shylock was excluded from society based on his religion, and Junior was excluded based on his race and socio-economic status.

Junior and Shylock we’re both marginalized in their books based on the way they act and what they believe in. Junior is seen as an outsider because he is Native American and from a lower class. When he switches to a new school, Reardon, the kids there treat him poorly and alienate him. “They stared at me, the Indian boy with the black eye and swollen nose, my going-away gifts from Rowdy. Those white kids couldn’t believe their eyes. They stared at me like I was Bigfoot or a UFO. What was I doing at Reardan, whose mascot was an Indian, thereby making me the only other Indian in town?” (Alexie 56). On Junior’s first day of school, he felt like he was seeing himself through the eyes of the white students. Shylock is also marginalized when talking to Antonio. “This kindness will I show. Go with me to a notary, seal me there. Your single bond; and in a merry sport, If you repay me not on such a day, In such a place, such sum or sums as are Express’d in the condition, let the forfeit. Be nominated for an equal pound. Of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken In what part of your body pleaseth me…Content, in faith. I’ll seal to such a bond, And say there is much kindness in the Jew.” (1.3.8). Shylock’s business proposition is associated with a racist anti-semetic stereotype. When he suggests that a pound of Antonio’s flesh should serve as a bond for the loan, Shakespeare’s audience would have been reminded of the false stories about murderous Jews who supposedly sought Christian blood for use in religious rituals. Both the characters are being socially excluded and treated as unequal. Junior responds to being marginalized by society through having a realization. “I used to think the world was broken down by tribes,’ I said. ‘By Black and White. By Indian and White. But I know this isn’t true. The world is only broken into two tribes: the people who are assholes and the people who are not.” (Alexie 176). Junior claims to have realized that possessing honorable moral characteristics are more important than having external social or political factors. Junior and Shylock are both marginalized because of where they come from and the way they act.

A way that Shylock and Junior’s marginalization differs, is in which Shylock is marginalized based on his religion, Judaism; rather, Junior is marginalized based on his race and socio-economic status. When Solanio and Salarino ask Shylock why he wants a pound of Antonio’s flesh, Shylock tells them the reasons he wants revenge on Antonio. In listing his grievances, Shylock demonstrates he is motivated not by blind prejudice but by the specific abuses he has suffered. “To bait fish withal; if it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge. He hath disgraced me and hindered me half a million, laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies—and what’s his reason? I am a Jew.” (3.1.23). Shylock is upset because he suffered these abuses at the hands of another mans prejudice which is essentially the act of being marginalized. The scorn is motivated by prejudice against Shylock’s nation. This is very different compared to Junior because Junior is marginalized based on his socio-economic status. For example, “Poverty doesn’t give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor.” (Alexie 13). Junior realized that his poverty affects his ability to pursue his dreams. He is confined by the poverty he lives in. This portrays the marginalization of Junior and how his socio-economic status affects him. With Shylock, he was marginalized solely on his religion. For example, “Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us do we not bleed?” (3.1.27). Shylock emphasizes his own humanity in which we all eat, feel pain, feel joy, get sick, recover, and bleed the same blood. Shylock is saying that he stands by his point and he is no worse than his Christian counterparts. Shylock says that all men are equal in their desire for revenge and his right to it. He responded to the marginalization by standing up for himself and emphasized humanity. Junior and Shylock were marginalized based on different aspects, but it ultimately led them to realize the humanity of the world.

Ultimately, Junior and Shylock are both marginalized in a society based on the way they act and what they believe in; their way of being marginalized differs from each other because Shylock was excluded from society based on his religion, and Junior was excluded based on his race and socio-economic status. Even though they were both faced with scrutiny and disparagement, they came to their own conclusions and stood up for themselves. Junior claims to have realized that possessing honorable moral characteristics are more important than having external social or political factors. Shylock emphasized humanity and how we as humans all bleed the same blood. These characters and what they were faced with can connect to our society today. We as human beings still have to remember what people like Shylock and Junior were faced with. We can not forget the history of marginalized groups in order to move our society forward.  

16 December 2021

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