I recently read this poem as part of a unit on African American literature and have some questions:
1) What symbols does this piece contain? (I know that a symbol will usually appear more than once in a piece of literature and often in important moments in the piece, however, I am having difficulty determining the symbol(s) in this poem).
2) What are possible interpretations of the symbol(s) in this poem?
3) Is there a common pattern with the symbol(s)?
4) Do some of the possible interpretations fit together? (I mean do they correlate in some way and is that why the author used them?).
5) How do these symbols relate to notions about African American literature?
6) How does this symbol develop understanding and appreciation of African American literature?
7) What evidence from the poem helps me to be able to understand and realize this?
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1. First off, for me, the symbols directly contrast with America's grand, bright ideals such as freedom and liberty and other positive connotations as they are totally clashed against the harsh, brutal realities of the horrible slave trade and overall slavery and oppression/racism within America, uncovering America's sins against the African American race. For example, some symbols contained in this piece might be how he aligns with America and its democratic image as the "land of liberty" with all its patriotic "song" in contrast to the "land of blood, and crime, and wrong" of the very same nation that allowed slavery. Does that make sense?
2) As you then brainstorm some possible interpretations of the symbols in this poem, I feel like they function overall to produce the ironic, sarcastic, biting tone of the piece, denote the anger at the treatment of blacks in America, and to also reflect the very hypocritical notion of slavery within America's premise of democratic, Christian, and "free" ideologies. Thus, I also feel like these symbols further expose America's bigoted and evil side, as well as slavery's sins, and racial injustices as in the excerpt:
"It is to thee, my native land/ From whence has issued many a band/To tear the black man from his soil/And force him here to delve ...
Symbols in "America" by James Monroe Whitfield are thoroughly explained and supported by textual evidence from the poem.