Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Prejudice and Identity

All three poems, Langston Hughes’ “Theme for English B,” Lucille Clifton’s “this morning (for the girls of eastern high school),” Julia Alvarez’s “Queens, 1963,” and Jeffrey Harrison’s “Fork”, deal with the immense struggle of an individual’s acceptance within their society. All of the speakers in each poem have to deal with the problem of finding their own identity in their existing world.
In Hughes’ “Theme for English B”, the speaker is struggling with his identity as being an African American in a historically African American setting, Harlem, but being surrounded by people who he cannot share the same immense pride of belonging to the place with because of their race. Yet, through writing, he realizes that there is continuity between races in America, and that the single difference should not be a huge barrier between races. He writes, “You are white---/yet a part of me, as I am a part of you./That's American.” This signifies the relationship that can be built between different races in America based on their common history and ties to the country.
Lucille Clifton’s “This morning (for the girls of eastern high school)” presents us with another challenge of racial identity in an environment that is seemingly unsupportive of the speaker’s minority. In the poem, the speaker is taunted because she is of a different race than the other girls. She is compared to primitive things, such as “bright/jungle girl” and “quick as a snake”. Although others view her as less than a fully functional human being, the speaker manages to get through the day because she holds fast to her own identity in the face of immense opposition.
Julia Alverez’s “Queens, 1963” also deals with the struggle of identity in a diverse environment. The speaker feels as though each diverse family cannot find a place living together because they do not have anything in common when in actuality, all of the families moved to the United States to better their lives. This alone, the speaker finds, is what connects all of the families in Queens, regardless of their ethnicity or racial background.
Jeffrey Harrison’s “Fork” presents us with a different type of struggle not based on race, but based on the prejudice of a teacher in writing styles. The teacher believes that the students will not become good writers because they are not writing within the vision that the teacher has created. The student has trouble finding his or her identity as a writer because the teacher has constantly belittled the student. This is apparent in lines 4-5 when Harrison writes, “because you told me over and over, in front of the class,/that I was "hopeless," that I was wasting my time/but more importantly yours, that I just didn’t get it.” Eventually, the speaker finds a way to get past the prejudice of the teacher and find his own identity within writing apart from what the teacher thinks is valuable.

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