Dissertation Conclusion: Resistance and Representation in African-American Poetry

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University of Richmond
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Dissertation conclusion
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Considering the secondary position that individuals of African heritage have held in their history in the United States, it is arguable that majority of the efforts of creative writers of this descent are forms of protest if not expression of the issues they face in society. Protest as used in this discussion refers to the use of African American poetry in calling to attention and redress to the secondary status of black people and attempting to draw equality and attain the approval of black people into the larger American body politic, where practitioners of democracy are stimulated to truly to live up to what democratic ideals on American soil mean. Protest literature has adopted several perspectives in its approach from the earliest literary efforts to contemporary times. These include pronouncing the plight of enslaved people, inspiring the larger white community to change its outlook toward those persons, and giving specific reference points for the nature of the complaints presented. In other words, the intention of protest literature wasand remainsto show inequalities among races and socio-economic groups in America and to encourage a change in the society that prompts such inequalities.

For African Americans, some of the questions inspiring African American protest poetry that inequality began with slavery. How, in a country that declared belief in an ideal democracy, could one group of persons subjugate another? (Aberjhani and Sandra 98). What forms of moral influence could be used to get them to see the fault of their ways? In addition, how, in a country that professed belief in Christianity, could one group enslave persons whom Christian doctrine taught were their brothers and sisters? And the list of hows goes on. How could white Americans justify Jim Crow? Inequalities in education, housing, jobs, accommodation, transportation, and a host of other things? In response to these hows, another how emerged. How could writers use their imaginations and pens to bring about change in the society? Protest literature, therefore, focused on such issues and worked to rectify them. Poetry is but one of the media through which writers address such issues, as there are forms of protest fiction, drama, essays, and anything else that African Americans wroteand still continue to write.

Complaining against slavery came easily to most African American writers who took up pens prior to 1865. One of the primary aims of black Protest poetry during slavery times writing during slavery was to lead to the end of slavery (Franklin and Moss 74). Since slavery occurred principally in the South, writers often focused appeals for freedom to northern whites, whom they hoped would influence their slaveholding colleagues in the South. Northern sympathizers as an audience became a kind of catch phrase for much of the black writing from this period. That audience was particularly important given the fact that the majority of African Americans not only did not have the power to change their condition, but they were mostly uneducated. It would be well into the twentieth century before a substantially measurable black audience emerged to respond to the commentary of black writers.

Nikki Giovannis works have great popular appeal. Like some other poets, she has rejected the standard language and has sought to find forms and diction more reflective of black realities. Consequently, in both her prose and her poetry, she employs a current inner-city vernacular and starkly realistic images. Her works are mainly tough, angry demands for action. In criticism and in poetry she attempts to find a black aesthetic distinctly different from the Euro-American aesthetic. Amiri Baraka (Leroi Jones) had his poetry done in the traditional form or conventional form. His poetry reflects the kind of changes his life took on from one phase to another. It also reflects places he visited. (Siler 693). Most of his poetry addresses the social injustices of African-Americans. Post-1960s poets, such as Pulitzer-Prize winners Rita Dove and Yusef Komunyakaa, are less inclined to overt protest. That, of course, is not to suggest that their poetry is devoid of complaint about American society and the conditions of black people in it. It is to say, however, that their canvases of exploration are broader than rural black America or inner city urban America. Dove deals with issues of inequality and repression in the Dominican Republic (Parsley) as well as in other international portraits she offers in her volume Museum (1983).

Multiple challenges faced were faced by African women. Through writing, the book argues, women resist their silencing by telling their stories and exposing the challenges and manifestations of oppression. Writing resistance is a process of discovery, emancipation, and reclaiming. It is about reclaiming their dignity, privacy and freedom as an African American woman and human being. It is about emancipating women from historical, structural, and systematic abuse, oppression, and discrimination. It is about discovering their inner strength, their uniqueness, and interdependence on other people. Therefore, writing is seen as a space for women to resist all form of oppression and abuse to which they are victims and survivors, a space that may not be available in womens day-to-day lives. African American poetry explored various themes.

Engaging with tradition: The focus of the writings grouped under this theme is womens negotiation with traditional practices that are oppressive in one way or the other in order to create new realities in the present.

Young women on sexuality: This section contains writings that explore how women navigate issues of their sexuality and the challenges and vulnerabilities associated with this navigation. The eight pieces in this section explore issues such as coming of age, coming out the closet, and claiming ones sexuality.

Challenging the institution of marriage: Questioning and examining power and oppression in the institution of marriage is the focus of the pieces in this section. Here you will find pieces that highlight and explore different manifestations of oppression in the institution of marriage.

Focusing on survival: Physical and emotional health in the context of war, disease and harmful cultural practices are the issues examined in the writings contained in this section. These issues include the effects of HIV and AIDS, gender-based violence and female genital cutting/mutilation.

Women as activists: Writings in this section look at the role that women play in advocating against war and conflict, as well as environmental degradation.

The Harlem Renaissance was a significant period in the growth and development of African- American social, artistic and cultural aspects in America during the 1920s and early 1930s (Charters and Kunstadt 2). Pinpointing a precise date to this period is very difficult because the events that signified it had been developing over a long time. The movement had such a great impact that this period was renamed the New "Negro Movement" in Harlem (Charters and Kunstadt 2). However, the different art forms especially music and performing arts were in competition with each other for the publics attention. Some art forms influenced the public opinion more than others during the time. Because of commercial appeal, social class and gender, acceptability and education, performing arts more than music had a bigger influence during the Harlem Renaissance. The arts at the time were used as a form of resistance because it defined African- Americans and was the emergence of a new culture.

One of the themes in the poetry by Dove is freedom and young female mind creativity. Dove takes in the significant of thoughts and imagination necessary for youth, especially when they are communicated through written word. For instance, the first book has the passage "Sure is not easy to begin," "Remember learning to apply" "Knife and Fork? Dig in: You will not reach the base." The poem communicates to young individuals, especially the women, telling them how reading and writing can be powerful. Dove explains how important the women should find it to become a writer. Reading and writing are not only knowledge tools, but also a canvas for the formation of artistic beauty. "The First Book" explains to its readers the stages one undergoes to become a writer, where one is required first to become a reader to become a writer. The use of voices of the young black female in the poem is founded on the experiences that Dove had in life. She grew up in the period where the blacks' rights were not fully recognized and often abused. Her poems do not include only observations, but also reflects her personal actions and emotions at the times of difficulties.

Dove through her poems brings us to the theme of the plight of a young female. The author shows the reader how the young girls live in the society along with the set of relationships within the domestic sphere and ways by which they interrelate and attain empowerment in such contexts seen as petty and less important. In the poetry by Dove, girls will not challenge the conditions within the domestic milieus they belong. However, they tend to fit themselves in ways which give them room to avoid victimization and to prepare themselves for the later life. All strategies used by the young girls including dreaming and daydreaming' self-isolation, devising excuses, ignoring surroundings, taking up choices seriously, among others are always purposeful. The domestic setting of Dove's poetry is characterized by a dominant stability. The girls are seen to have grown up in a safe local environment and had loving family relationships. The homes showed by the poet in her autobiographical poems in one that is peaceful with children being carefree. For instance, in the poem, "Grape Sherbet," the tone of the poem is playful, giving an atmosphere where children play around the graves, which is seen healthy despite being a memorial.

Throughout the poem, we see Dove struggling with the theme of maternal ambivalence, which is experienced by many women but they will never talk about it. Dove examines maternal ambivalence from the view of several women in her poetry and eventually commemorates the creative powers it gives the women who hold their fight with it. Cultural norms hold it that women are supposed to have children, who are seen as the soft bundles of joy. Furthermore, women are required to love their children at all cost and to sacrifice for their offspring willingly. Consider the first poem, "Taking in Wash."It refers to Beulah's mother, as she struggles to take in laundry to increase her husband's income. Beulah is an heir to her mother's domestic realm and its attendant powerlessness. The incompetent type of protection gives her reputation as she gets children. In looking into things to offer her children, Beulah fears to let her children down due to her experience as a child.

Another poem that brings out the theme of maternal ambivalence is the one entitled, "Motherhood." Beulah experiences a fairy tale and a nightmare, which tells us the situation of Beulah in becoming a mother, seen as both fulfilling and destructive. The author brings in the dreams of Beulah to describe to us the situation of women in that society. In the second poem, "Magic," which shows the dream of Beulah of trading life in the homes of her parents for the wonders of Paris. The first stanza describes the literal dreams of Beulah as a new mother, where she first misplaces the baby and then she puts it down disappearing. There are instances of the baby exploding before her eyes. The initial lines of this poem showed the feelings of inadequacy and arrogant responsibility shower Beulah when she gave birth....

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