Friday, August 23, 2019

the last book I ever read (Colson Whitehead's The Nickel Boys, excerpt nine)

from The Nickel Boys: A Novel by Colson Whitehead:

He thought long on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s letter from the Birmingham jail, and the powerful appeal the man composed from inside. One thing gave birth to the other—without the cell, no magnificent call to action. Elwood had no paper, no pen, just walls, and he was all out of fine thoughts, let alone the wisdom and the way with words. The world had whispered its rules to him for his whole life and he refused to listen, hearing instead a higher order. The world continued to instruct: Do not love for they will disappear, do not trust for you will be betrayed, do not stand up for you will be swatted down. Still he heard those higher imperatives: Love and that love will be returned, trust in the righteous path and it will lead you to deliverance, fight and things will change. He never listened, never saw what was plainly in front of him, and now he had been plucked from the world altogether. The only voices were those of the boys below, the shouts and laughter and fearful cries, as if he floated in a bitter heaven.

A jail within a jail. In those long hours, he struggled over Reverend King’s equation. Throw us in jail and we will still love you . . . But be assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves, we will so appeal to your heart and your conscience that we will win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory. No, he could not make that leap to love. He understood neither the impulse of the proposition nor the will to execute it.

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