In "Hanging Fire" by Audre Lorde, what is the overall main theme?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I think that one of the critical themes to come out of "Hanging Fire" is the idea that adolescence is a difficult period of one's life.  Lorde is skilled in detailing how the life of an adolescent reflects problems in the wider world. The adolescent lens might be the purest and most lucid to view the challenges of modern consciousness.  

Lorde illuminates this dynamic in several contexts.  One of these contexts would be how the voice of "the other" is silenced.  The adolescent voice in the poem brings to light how modern society is terraced and scaffolded based on power and status.  This can be seen in lines such as "I have to learn how to dance / in time for the next party," which reflects a social configuration where the speaker is "the outsider" and at the mercy of those who are on the "inside."  This condition in which the individual is pushed to the margins of social interaction can be seen in the line, "Nobody even stops to think/ about my side of it," a statement which depicts a specific unfairness in the modern setting.  Lorde is direct in her assertion that young girls are able to experience the patriarchal conditions of power in the modern setting: "I should have been on Math Team/ my marks were better than his." It is deliberate that Lorde discusses Math and Science, fields where issues of gender bias have been identified.  The idea of being different and the impact that this has on adolescents represent the central theme of the poem.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial