Monday, February 21, 2011

Prejudice, classism, etc.

So I've been wanting to bring this up for a while. I noticed this much more in CS Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia, but I see it here too. I'm not sure that Tolkien ever mentions the color of skin of the men allied with Sauron, but I'm pretty sure they are from the south of Middle Earth. CS Lewis creates a similar enemy in a culture that appears to me a parallel to the Middle East. If I remember right Lewis explicitly mentions that they have darker skin. I sense the same type of undertones in The Lord of the Rings but I might be wrong.

What I noticed more was that individuals in The Lord of the Rings are greatly characterized by race. Where characters come from tells a lot about them. I get the feeling that people of certain races and countries (though not the central ones of the plot, Orcs don't count because they are a mutilated race created for evil) are more likely to be evil than others. Do these undertones exist or am I crazy? Is there anything wrong with it if they do?

7 comments:

Haleth said...

I vaguely remember thinking that too about the men of Sauron! And I wouldn't be surprised if he was classifying/ranking people by their race. I don't know if he did this out of racism exactly though. I feel like it just helps make the characters more clear and predictable.

Miriel said...

Making different distinct races, like the elves and the dwarfs, Tolkien creates conflict between them which they have to overcome to have enough strength to fight evil.

Diamond Took said...

I realize that I never addressed classism in this post like I planned too. What about one of the most likable and heroic characters being the characteristic "good servant." Sam is happy being subservient. He is obedient and he always calls Frodo "master." Tolkien seems to connect this attitude with his overall "goodness." Sometimes this irks me a little because I have a problem with the whole personal servants based on economic advantage sort of thing. But other times I think that Tolkien isn't concentrating on this idea and is implying something totally different. Still, the connection is still there and I'm not sure I like it... anybody?

Radagast said...

First, in Book IV Chapter 3: The Gate is Closed, Gollum actually says, "the men are fierce and have dark faces." He's talking about the men who are south of Mordor by the sea, who, I'm pretty sure are some of the men who are allied with Sauron. So, if I'm right with that then Tolkien actually specified skin color.

Second, I totally agree with you that the whole personal servant thing bothers me too! I've always thought of Sam as at least even with Frodo because they grow and help each other and depend on each other so much. So, I think of them as equals. I don't know what else Tolkien would be implying, but maybe it is just in Sam's character. He at least was Frodo's servant and was raised calling him Mr. Frodo and Master and things like that. So, it might just be so ingrained in his mind that he can't stop.

Elendil said...

Oh, I'm glad someone else noticed this! I did some research, and yes, as Radagast mentioned, the darker skin tone, just by virtue of the geography of Middle Earth, is associated with our heroes' enemies. I have decided that this is simply a reflection of Tolkien's time and lifestyle. Yeah, he was probably kind of racist, but in the benign and reflexive way that one gets when they've simply been brought up that way. I can't find anything to prove that Tolkien had any actual malicious feelings towards people of color. But thank you for bringing it up!

As for Sam and his servitude to Frodo, I read somewhere that Tolkien intended their relationship to be similar to that of an artillery man and his partner (the actual job title escapes me at the moment), who would feed the gunman the ammunition. There was often (for some reason) a class difference between the two, but they relied on each other to not die, basically. So the class separation began to fall away.

Belladonna Took said...

Just to build on Radagast's quote from Book IV, Mordor is south east of the Shire. If you go further south from Mordor, it would, technically be pretty close to being the Middle East of Middle Earth. In Chapter III of Book IV, Gollum explains that "the Yellow face is very hot there (South of Mordor), ... and the men are fierce and have dark faces." This hot sun further suggests that this is in the east and specifically near the equator (middle east). I think it is really interesting how these dark skinned middle eastern men are characterized as "bad guys" in Lord of the Rings.

Aredhel said...

This is running with Elendil's idea about the artillery men and their partners. The biography presentation actually had that one quote about Sam - that he was meant to be a parallel to the infantry men. These men with a pretty thankless job are really the backbone of the entire army. Without the infantry (and without Sam) the war never would've been won (and the quest never would've been completed).

The class distinction between Frodo and Sam has never really bugged me. I actually think it's kind of inspirational. Here's this unimportant, working class hobbit without whom Middle Earth would be doomed. He stays in this role of "servant" throughout the entire story because he would be embarrassed to have people give him prestige and honor. It's because of this extreme humility that Sam alone is able to return the Ring to Frodo after Shelob's Lair. He doesn't want power - he wants to save Frodo, he wants to go home. Sam, a lower-class hobbit, is portrayed as such a hero and such a loyal trooper throughout the whole story. His worth is so evident when these great wizards and leaders of Men could not have played his role any better.