Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 882
Hongo begins "The Legend" by quickly establishing the setting of the poem: the streets of Chicago during a soft snowfall, in the "twilight of early evening." The narrator uses detailed images to convey a story, with the language focusing on external events. The first image is that of a man carrying a load of laundry, neatly folded within a crumpled shopping bag; the narrator states that the man enjoys the feel of the warm laundry in his hands. Thus, the narrator is one who can make assumptions about the internal state of the character. The narrator then compares the color of the man's face to a Rembrandt painting, alluding to the Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669), of the European baroque school of painting. This description reveals not only the color of the man's cheeks but also the character of the narrator: he has knowledge and cultural sophistication. As such, the poet is revealing complexity beyond his simple images. At the end of the first stanza comes an instant of foreshadowing, as the last flash of sunset lends an orange glow to the scene.
In the second stanza, the narrator describes the man. He is Asian, and the narrator estimates him to be either Thai or Vietnamese. Thus, although the narrator has insight into the character's internal state, he is not omniscient. The man is described as frail and poorly dressed, in a working-class jacket and wrinkled pants. The poem continues to show movement, as the man negotiates the icy sidewalk, opens the back door of his car, and puts his laundry inside. Then, although the man remains nameless, the car is identified as a Ford Fairlane. This is, after all, America, where automobiles have names but people in the streets are anonymous. At the end of the second stanza, the action suddenly intensifies. The narrator mentions a flurry of footsteps and commotion. The Asian man hears shouts from pedestrians, as an armed boy has just robbed the corner package store. The boy fires a pistol and hits the Asian man in the chest, and the man slumps over, surprised.
The storytelling mode continues into the third stanza, with images of a crowd gathering and a wounded man struggling to speak. The man makes noises that none of the bystanders can understand; in fact, the narrator remarks that the man's noises mean "nothing" to the crowd, endowing the man with a sense of alienation and inconsequentiality. The boy who shot him disappears into the snowy evening, leaving behind only footsteps in the snow. The reader may get the sense that justice will not be served.
In the fourth stanza, the setting and tone of the poem abruptly change, as the reader enters the narrator's mind. The narrator states that he has been reading about René Descartes (1596–1650), a French philosopher associated with the European Enlightenment. Descartes theoretically doubted everything in his world except himself, thus elevating thought as the most important function of his being. He is perhaps most widely remembered for the statement "I think, therefore I am." Individuals such as Descartes helped free science and philosophy from religious dogma. The narrator considers the "grand courage" that Descartes possessed with respect to his intellectualization, all of which is extraordinarily remote from the random shooting he has just described. The narrator...
(The entire section contains 882 words.)
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