What are some important literary devices in the story Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead? 

Expert Answers

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

There are numerous literary devices present in Colson Whitehead's Sag Harbor: A Novel.


Imagery, language which is visually descriptive (which normally appeals to the senses), is important because it often allows readers to experience a text. The more one visualizes the events, the more one feels what is happening, the more he or she connects with the author, his or her characters, and the events. Therefore, imagery is important to insure this connection between the speaker (narrator and/or protagonist) and the reader. One example of this appears on the first page of the novel: "the same gravel road that sooner or later skinned you." This imagery is almost universal. Many people are able to remember a time where they fell in a gravel road; some may still have the scars. This connection to the text may bring about feelings of nostalgia, understanding, and a connection with the character (given their shared experience).


There are numerous instances of personification in the text. Personification is when a non-living, non-human thing is given human characteristics or abilities. For example, "the lie had now stopped slicing towns in half." Here, a lie is given the ability to cut something else. Typically, people "cut" other people and things. Yet, most are aware what the term "cut" refers to: a severing of something. Here, the lies which were told are no longer severing the town. Personification allows readers to sometimes make deeper connections between things given the personified thing now possesses human characteristics. By possessing human characteristics, an understanding is formed between the reader and the text (the ideologies or themes).

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In his semi-autobiographical forth novel Sag Harbor, Colson Whitehead uses flashback, satire, and foreshadowing to weave an engaging, comedic commentary about coming-of-age in a "post-racial" society.

Benji Cooper, the main character, narrates as an adult the story of the summer of his 15-year old self. Teenaged Benji spends the summer at Sag Harbor with his family and a group of friends. Cooper tells the story in a series of flashbacks and vignettes, narrating and at the same time commenting on the behavior of his younger self. Adult Cooper uses the information and political understanding he's gained since then to make judgments and explanations about his younger self. Reflecting on how he and his friends would make racial jokes about a fair-skinned ice cream man, the adult Cooper/narrator uses political concepts such as racial insecurity, double consciousness, and tokenism to make sense of his actions. The use of flashback allows the narrator to comment on his own behavior from a broader, more well-informed perspective than that of his younger self.  

Whitehead also uses foreshadowing to emphasize aspects of Benji's experience. Benji's alienation from his father, for example, is foreshadowed early; young Benji feels distinctly uncomfortable around his father and often sneaks out to avoid encounters with him. At night, Benji sometimes hears his father preparing a drink and becomes afraid, anticipating an outburst or drunken rage. Though their relationship remains stable (albeit distant) until near the end of the story, readers can clearly make out the oncoming conflict and disconnect, even from the very first pages of this modern coming-of-age classic.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team