Sharon Goldman Hum 312 9:30 9/14/2010 “Sonnet To A Negro In Harlem” Helene Johnson Helene Johnsons is the speaker in this sonnet and describes her subject in two opposing views. The first line starts with You are disdainful and magnificent-- implying that the negro race may be a bit disrespectful to their homeland by living this new life possibly in a magnificent manner, clever in the way they have been able to adapt and fit in to the new Harlem city life. The writer is neither speaking of a man or woman, it seems she may actually be peaking of a nation of people, specifically the negro race living in Harlem during a certain era referenced in line 2, your perfect body and your pompous gate, “body” may be the key to whom she is speaking of meaning a group. Line 3, your dark eyes flashing solemnly with hate; the Negro race still feels hatred toward their oppressor but tries hard to cover up those feelings although the hate is still seen in the eyes of the people. Lines 4 and 5, small wonder that you are incompetent to imitate those whom you o despise-- the negro race is only incompetent in this new land, black people now live in an era where they are forced to act differently by fitting in with the white race, which are the people who put them in this position initially. The negro race is now surviving this new lifestyle and have to compromise their way of life. Line 6, your shoulders towering high above the throng, maybe with such a heavy load to bear the Negro race walks with their shoulders high in the midst of everyone, not wanting to expose the burden on life in Harlem. The true feelings are too much to handle, its easier to walk with your head up and pretend that everything is fine. Line 7, your head thrown back in rich barbaric song may be reference to a native land, “barbaric song”, a language once spoken in a different land that is no longer understood in the present time. Line 8 also refers to a time and place long ago, palm trees and mangoes stretched before your eyes, the life in Harlem does not offer such tropical wonders experienced in the negro’s motherland. Those days are long gone and may never e reached again but they may still long for their native country which has become nothing more than a dream. Looking at lines 9 and 10, let others toil and sweat for labors sake and wring from grasping hands their meed of gold, this seems to be a reminder of slavery, the labor of the negro race, but only to let the white race reap the benefits of their slaves labor. A question is asked in line 11, why urge ahead your supercilious feet? The writer may wonder why Negros keep up this Harlem lifestyle as if their attitudes will help to rase the memories of the past. The last line of the sonnet states “you are to splendid for this city street! The writer seems to show a bit of sarcasm, as if to say that the negro race came from a far better place than the Harlem streets they reside in. The writer is giving the reader a reminder of where they came from although forced from their native lands Negros have to put on an act but this act almost becomes a part of their being as the city takes over their minds, soul and body.
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