Social Literary Analysis Essay on Dick Gregory's Shame

Published: 2021-08-18
1034 words
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University of Richmond
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Dick Gregory in his spectacular and informative story of Shame succinctly portrayed the typical life that ordinary people live. He characterizes the low-income families as replete with poverty and frustrations that come with it including the inability to get enough food, challenges in socialization, feeling of exclusion, educational problems, and a general societal ridicule (Svedberg, 2000). In fact, the writing is an open indictment of the society that seems mundane to the noble duty of helping the disadvantaged people overcome their challenges. Gregory exposes the selfishness that is common among those who have access to resources in influx. According to him, such people find no need of helping the less fortunate, but if they do, then it is done so publicly that it leads to the denigration of the receivers sense of self-esteem. The subject of poverty forms the centerpiece in Gregorys writing in which he identifies it as a social challenge and encapsulates how it impede various aspects of humanity including causing humiliation, shame, and hatred.

Poverty as a social challenge results in trickle-down effects which collectively or singly reduce the perceived quality of peoples lives. When one is unable to meet some basic needs such as adequate food and clothing, then they develop a sense of exclusion even when they are part of communities (Spicker, 2007). For instance, Gregory narrates how he felt ashamed of the fact that he could not manage to have an extra uniform or shoes as the rest of his classmates. Every time he was in class he felt like a second-class student. This feeling copled with his struggles in getting daily meals on the table thus reducing his concentration in class (Gregory, 1964). Generally, the environment becomes increasingly unfavorable for poor people that they feel like the best thing to get out of the system that makes them feel fewer equals. Gregory portrays poverty is a real social issue but casts aspersions on the weaknesses of the community structures in helping the affected people overcome their feeling of limitation.

In Shame, the devastations of abject poverty manifest so clearly that one begins to understand the reality of social profiling based on economic ability which ends up keeping the society in some form of social tension (Spicker, 2007). The low-income families look up to the rich for assistance, but the latter has become so selfish they do not realize the problems that the poor face but the few who acknowledge their obligation of being a brothers keeper do not uphold the dignity of the poor while giving thus reducing the essence of charity (Gregory, 1964). Ideally, assistance is supposed to help the less fortunate develop a sense of belonging and worthiness that incredibly contribute to their persuasion of social, economic and political potentials. Therefore, in a system where charity does not lead to an improvement in an individuals perceived sense of self-worth then it results in a feeling of shame, reticule and loss (Gregory, 1964). For instance, Gregorys teacher had gone out of the way to make his classmates contribute some money to help him but it is not done in a way that restores the sense of dignity leading to a feeling of shame and disrespect.

Despite the fact that Gregory indicts the social systems for being so capitalist as not to help the poor, he provides a nuanced impression of how such people use various ways to overcome the hardships (Gregory, 1964). He is not naive to reflect in the myriads of challenges that poverty brings but in such problems, he ushers in a flicker of hope that potentially minimizes the great deal of shame that accompanies it (Spicker, 2007). The poor have a reduced feeling of belonging hence they are forced to frame their lives around various things from which they derive pride and happiness. For instance, they struggle to emulate the successful people who grant them a sense of self-motivation. Following such people increases the personal zeal to proceed with life even amidst social and economic limitations.

In Shame, the author exemplifies the fact that by emulating a respected person, even an impoverished individual can derive a sense of pride. For example, in the narrative, Gregory is a fatherless child whose life is further complicated by the fact that he lives in a ghetto and poverty (Spicker, 2007). Nonetheless, through a respectable and well-off character called Helene who is also his schoolmate, the distraught child manages to use the limited resources within his reach at least to look as decent as the young girl. It startles to see how poverty has made Gregory develop a reduced sense of importance about schooling that instead of going to school to acquire knowledge and skills, Helene becomes his sole motivation for going there every day.

Poverty results in an open social and economic classification where the individuals from a humble background become targets of condemnation. In the case of Gregory, he is openly ridiculed by people including his teacher. Nonetheless, the classmates seem sorry for him, but since this situation has been let so open for everyone to know, such empathy does not serve to make him feel better either (Gregory, 1964). In fact, the author expresses the fact that economic status significantly influences the acceptance of people. Despite the fact that Richard wanted to participate in his classroom affairs actively, the teacher just blatantly disregarded his presence in class. He was shut down and asked to sit down, a fact which amounted to being insulted due to his hardship situation.

In conclusion, members of the society are not equally bequeathed with wealth. There are some who are more opulent than others hence belong to a higher social status while some are overly considered poor. Children from such poor backgrounds experience various challenges including the feeling of exclusion, inability to concentrate in class and reduced self-esteem. They thus need positive remarks and acknowledgment. The comments made to them influences their life forever. In Shame, the mere criticism of Richard by the teacher made him feel different from the rest of the pupils leading to a negative feeling about his status.


Gregory, N. (1964). Shame. Nigger: An autobiography.

Spicker, P. (2007). The idea of poverty. Bristol: Policy.

Svedberg, P. (2000). Poverty and undernutrition: Theory, measurement, and policy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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