What are some literary devices, besides tone and imagery, used in "Hanging Fire" by Audre Lorde?

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literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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There are multiple poetic devices used in the poem "Hanging Fire" by Audre Lorde.

1. "Still Sucks"- Alliteration- The repetition of a consonant sound within a line of poetry. Here the "s" sound is repeated.

2. "My skin has betrayed me"- Personification- The giving of human traits or abilities to non-human/non-living things. Here, skin is personified. The skin is given the ability to "betray," a characteristic only humans can possess.

3. "Sing sad"- Alliteration again.

4. "And mommas in the bedroom with the door closed"- Repetition- The repeated use of a word or phrase used for emphasis. Here, readers can see that the speaker's mother does not care about her. She is always in her bedroom with the door closed. The closed door illustrates the literal (the door is actually closed) and the figurative (the mother is closed to the daughter).

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samcestmoi | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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The most prominent device used in this poem is repetition.  Lorde repeats the lines, “momma’s in the bedroom with the door closed,” at the end of each verse; this emphasizes the feelings of abandonment and loneliness felt by our fourteen-year-old speaker.  She is wrought with the insecurities of her teenage years, and the withdrawal of her mother into her bedroom cuts off any access she has to a nurturing figure – she is alone in her wonderings, and this isolation at home is the crux of her insecurity.  Lorde also uses the form and structure of the poem to great effect:  by eschewing punctuation and having each verse be a single sentence, we get an approximation of a stream of consciousness, the young speaker’s troubles running one into the next in his head, thoughts bleeding into each other.  We see here the seemingly endless quality of the girl’s simple suffering, and the equal weight of each trial – learning to dance, acne, death – in the mind of an adolescent.  Her internal struggles are lent legitimacy by writing the poem from first person perspective; this also emphasizes a teenager’s typically egocentric view of the world – “Nobody even stops to think/about my side of it,” she laments in the final verse, and thinks, “why do I have to be/the one/wearing braces.” 

Lorde underscores this point with the juxtaposition of these small injustices with the heavy permanence of death.  In each verse we have imagery of the girl’s fear of death:  “what if I die/before morning,” “suppose I die before graduation,” will I live long enough/to grow up.”  When coupled with troubles about boys and acne and having nothing to wear the next day, we see how, at age fourteen, everything can feel like a life-threatening crisis.  This also indicates that the girl is just becoming aware of what it means to be an adult, what it means to be alive in the world – the threat of death is constant; our lives are not guaranteed, our safety is not guaranteed, our happiness is not guaranteed.  And this is a scary, depressing concept.  Yet still it cannot erase the everyday woes of simply living.


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