A Black Man Talks of Reaping

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					Dan DeHelian
Cody Mauers
Derek Nestler
                                A Black Man Talks of Reaping
         Throughout the poem A Black Man Talks of Reaping by Arna Bontemps, there
exists a tone of morose dissatisfaction, exemplified by his use of despondent metaphors,
bleak diction, and hopeless hyperboles. Overall, these rhetorical strategies used by
Bontemps create a theme of futility despite constant perseverance and persistence.
         To establish both the tone and the theme of his poem, Bontemps uses a series of
despondent metaphors that incorporate into one long conceit. In lines 2-3 he writes, “I
planted deep, within my heart the fear, that wind or fowl would take the grain away.” The
planting deep represents his steadfast and deeply rooted fear. The “wind or fowl”
represents the oppressive individuals that wish to hinder the black man in his pursuits and
the “grain” that he is afraid of losing represents the results that yield from his
perseverance. As a black man, he and his people have worked persistently towards
obtaining equality, but the oppressive white culture has hindered them every step of the
way. All he has to show for his pursuits is “what the hand, can hold at once” (lines 7-8).
This makes the black man rather morose because his “children glean in the fields, they
have not sown, and feed on bitter fruit” (lines 11-12). The generations of blacks that
come after him are forced to feed on the “bitter fruit” of oppression and discrimination
because he and his people were unable to provide a sufficient harvest. Despite their
endurance and tenacity, the white culture prevailed and the efforts of the blacks remained
         Bleak diction also plays an important role in developing the theme of this poem,
but is more so used to develop a morose and dissatisfied tone. In the second line of the
poem Bontemps writes, “I planted deep, within my heart the fear.” The word “fear” that
is associated with words like “heart” and “deep” establishes early on that things have not
been going so well for the narrator and that he has a reason to be afraid. In line 4 he
describes how he “planted safe” in order to combat the “stark, lean year”. Again, the
narrator seems apprehensive because conditions have become so barren that he must take
precautions lest his harvest be destroyed. Then, in line 7 he talks of the products which he
has yielded thus far. Unfortunately, all he has to show for his hard work is what he can
“hold at once” in his “hand”. This further establishes the bleak tone by describing how
little he had offer, despite his hard work. Then, in line 12 he describes the “bitter fruit”
which is the product of his harvest and the food upon which his children must feed. He is
thoroughly dissatisfied with his results and yet there is little he can do about it. And his
children must suffer because of it.
         Bontemps uses hopeless hyperboles as well throughout his poem, to establish the
overall theme of futility despite constant perseverance. In the very first line he writes, “I
have sown beside all waters in my day” This obvious exaggeration serves to illustrate the
fact that the black man has worked hard throughout his life and has been many places. He
also writes “I scattered seed enough to plant the land, in rows from Canada to Mexico.”
Again the narrator is exaggerating to highlight the amount of hard work he has put in
throughout his life. This lines exemplify the “perseverance” aspect of the theme.
Unfortunately, his “children glean in fields, they have not sown, and feed on bitter fruit.”
Despite his hard work and determination, he has nothing to show for it, except “bitter
fruit” and it is thus the only thing he has to offer to his children.

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