What is the tone in the poem "God Give to Men" by Arna Bontemps?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This poem is written in a very bitter, ironic tone. We can identify the tone by considering the subject matter of the poem and the choice of words that are used to convey that subject matter. Clearly, if we look at this poem carefully, there is massive grim irony in what it says, and in particular in the stereotypical representations of different ethnicities. The second stanza is of course one of the most ironic, as it presents the white man in comparison to other races:

Give blue-eyed men their swivel chairs

to whirl in tall buildings.

Allow them many ships at sea,

and on land,


and policemen.

The idea of God being involved in something so trivial as giving white men swivel chairs to use in their "tall buildings" is ironic until we remember that this poem is actually a comment on racial inequality and the way in which certain races have so much and others have so little. The bitterness and anger therefore emerges when the "black man" is refered to, and God is asked only to "fill afresh his meed / with laughter / his cup with tears." The way in which the position of blacks in the world is reflected and how they need nothing else except more laughter and tears, clearly conveys the angry tone.


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