After reading the four poems assigned many ideas of hopelessness and uselessness began to run through my mind. These common ideas became the link between each very different poem. At a time when slaves did not have much hope to cling too, how they spent their leisure time became very important. Whether it was sewing, singing, or just hoping for a new life many slaves spent their lives like this. Having said this I am going to point out some similarities in these poems.
The first poem is “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Dunbar. Just as we read in Douglas, again we see the idea of singing being misinterpreted. This poem focuses on the falseness that follows the ideas of singing. Another connection that this poem has is with the documentaries we saw in class on inaccurate media displays of black people. Characters such as the “mammy” and the “sanbones” showed slaves as being content with their lives, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. These types of media displays really gave people in the North a false idea of how the slaves were being treated. Line’s such as “with torn and bleeding hearts we smile” and “We sing, but oh the clay is vile beneath our feet” just proves that slaves put on act of contentment. Instead of finding happiness in singing, most of the time it came from feeling hopeless, which we have seen now in many cases.
“I Sit and Sew” by Alice Dunbar-Nelson shows another example of the discontentment that slaves felt in their free time. Sewing did not make these people content; it was merely a monotonous way to pass their time in a useless situation often slaves would become more upset with free time because they would often cling to the idea of being free. Alice even refers to the seam, the most important part in sewing as “useless”. It’s just awful to see a group of people left with time to themselves, and always suffering through it. The whole idea of slavery has not only taken over their lives, but even their thoughts and dreams.
“The Slave Auction” by Harper is another example of the emptiness that many slaves were left with. Harper takes you through the eyes of a girl, a mother, and woman. Each of these stages that a woman goes through brings you to the same conclusion of a dead end. Images of women losing children, young girls being separated from their families, and true love being ruined, haunt the slaves at each action. Harper’s account on their feelings gives a more vivid image to the reader when recounting their hardships.
“Songs for the people” by Harper shows a different account on singing. Whoever the speaker is sings for not himself but the people who need help. The “hearts of men”, “the weary”, “the children”, and “the aged”, are all people who he sings to help those who are suffering. I think that it’s interesting that people though assumed that from singing meant happiness. The speaker who is singing isn’t doing it out of contentment, but out of hope for a better life. The three previous poems all showed themes of hopelessness, but this last poem showed that their was still hope in the hearts of some slaves. ;