What are the themes of "Bury Me in a Free Land" by Frances E.W. Harper?

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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The predominate theme in "Bury me in a Free Land" is that of the horrors of slavery. Harper claims she could not rest in peace if she knew that she was buried in a land where people were subjected to these indignities:

I could not rest if I heard the tread                                                   Of a coffle gang to the shambles led                                               And the mother's shriek of wild despair                                          Rise like a curse on the trembling air. 

Harper repeatedly evokes slavery's terrors and abuses, using images of blood, shreiking, moans, and death. She juxtaposes this with freedom, her other central theme, only possible in a land where "bloated might/Can rob no man of his dearest right." Harper's poem makes a simple request, only asking that she not be buried in a land where slavery exists. In doing so, she seems to argue that the issue of slavery itself is not complex. Slavery is inherently evil, and just as she could not be buried in a land of slavery, so Americans should not rest easy knowing that the institution exists in their midst.



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