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Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
Throughout The Land, Paul struggles with the meaning of family and, even more pointedly, the meaning of brother. In Paul's world, kinship and heritage play a major role in understanding one's past, one's social situation, what one can expect from life, and upon whom one can depend. Initially race- blind, Paul sees his white brother Robert as his mirror image, closest friend, and most reliable ally. As Paul comes of age, however, he grows to see that race overrides the tie of brotherhood that unites the two boys. Shortly after his break with Robert, Paul adopts Mitchell as a brother: their shared racial heritage and their shared struggles forge a bond between the two that is stronger than the bond that had connected Paul and Robert. Paul and Mitchell trust and depend upon each other because they must—neither could have escaped particular dangerous situations without the other. When Paul asks Mitchell to work the land with him, even their everyday lives become inextricably entwined. Mitchell replaces Robert in Paul's childhood dream of working the land with his brother.
Early in the book, Paul's father admonishes him to "fight with his head, not his fists," since Paul is a small child not skilled at fighting. As Paul grows older, this message grows more urgent, as he finds he is socially less powerful than the men who engage him in battle. Lashing out physically or even verbally will bring about a swift and violent reaction, such as lynching or imprisonment. Paul internalizes this lesson and employs it throughout the book: he obeys his spiteful boss Jessup and works on Sunday, only to hatch a plan to run away from the camp. And he bears the cruel words of Hollenbeck and Granger. He refocuses his anger and devotes his passion to his dream of obtaining land. The times that Paul resists more directly—when he chastises Robert and the Waverly boys for abusing the Appaloos, or when he convinces a band of drunken whites to leave him and Mitchell alone—lead to trouble. Paul possesses a heartfelt understanding of the injustices inherent in the social structures surrounding him, but he also understands that he only has so much freedom to resist these injustices without exacerbating them. By applying steady pressure and using his energy constructively, Paul obtains the land he desires. Paul's passive, calculated means of resisting oppression are echoed in the civil rights movement's use of peaceable protest.
Time and again, Paul feels the financial and social consequences of being a black man in a racist society. Paul cannot inherit his father's land because he is black, Sutcliffe can neglect to pay him because he is black, his boss can force him to work without pay because he is black, and banks can refuse to grant him loans because he is black. Slavery's deepest roots lie in white people's desire to exploit Black people for monetary gain, and racism, or the belief in the inherent superiority of one race over another, acts as a justification or explanation for this economic exploitation. After slavery was abolished, white landowners still wanted to exploit the resources of black labor. This exploitation and racism fed off each other in a hateful cycle, in which Black people were systematically denied access to economic resources on the basis of their race, thus confirming and maintaining their racial inferiority. Black people like Paul, who desired to become property owners, threatened such a cycle.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Land!