Thursday, January 24, 2008

"Reapers" - Irony and Race

Reading over Toomer’s biography, the most interesting thing to me (and probably everyone else), was that he was half-black and half-white. I found that this could be read in "Reapers" because of the obvious tensions between whites and blacks at the time, which was quite a weird position for Toomer to be in because he was both. This could be one of the reasons for the irony in "Reapers."

"Black reapers with the sound of steel on stones
Are sharpening scythes. I see them place the hones"

What I find interesting about these two lines is that the reapers are black (usually the ones who are oppressed) and they are the ones sharpening the scythes. This kind of irony already sets up for the poem to have a deeper contextual meaning. This contrast is only the beginning for Toomer’s poem.

"In their hip-pockets as a thing that's done,
And start their silent swinging, one by one.
Black horses drive a mower through the weeds,
And there, a field rat, startled, squealing bleeds,"

This section of the poem furthers the racial tension theme, once again using the color black as the only description (i.e., the horses). As the horses drive a mower through the field, a rat is caught in the path of the mower and is cut open due to the sharp blades. The rat represents the blacks and the hardships they face.

"His belly close to ground. I see the blade,
Blood-stained, continue cutting weeds and shade."

This section of the poem finishes the tension between the author and his two sides. As the blade cuts open the rat, the horse and machine continue to move past, as if nothing has happened at all. This is a corellation between the anamosity some whites had against blacks - no matter what travesties were brought upon the blacks, some whites just did not care and kept moving on with their lives as if nothing had ever happened.

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