Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
“As a writer I feel I best serve my readership when I rehumanize the dehumanized, when I illuminate what is in darkness, when I give blood and bone to statistics that are too easily dismissed,” says Coleman in BALF. The world’s final view of Till was his grotesquely disfigured face and bloated body, so the narrator reminds readers that “(once it was human)” as she tells Till’s story and illuminates racism “from the deep dank murk of consciousness.” According to Stephen Henderson in Understanding the New Black Poetry (1973), much black poetry deals with the theme of liberation from either physical or political bondage. This poem is a variation on a historically popular theme: the preference for death over slavery. Here, set free by death, Till is “sovereign at last.” Thus, Coleman’s theme emphasizes the liberated spirit and the enduring legacy of Till, which can be seen in her dominant images.
Coleman’s irreverent parodies of “America, the Beautiful” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” reveal the brutality of a Jim Crow system in a democratic society and the hypocrisy of America, which fostered this hostile climate for African Americans. Coleman juxtaposes the ideal with the reality. For example, the beauty of America is revealed by the “purple mountain” majesties and the “amber” waves of grain, but the ugliness is revealed by the narrator’s insistent questioning of what people can see: “oh say do...
(The entire section is 397 words.)
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