| The main theme in each of the poems for this week is the idea of conformity. In each of these poems the speakers refuse to conform to what the majority believes to be acceptable. And, because of that they have grown stronger.|
In Julia Alvarez’s “Queens, 1963” the poet touches on the issues of race and racism during the early 1960s. The speaker is a young girl who has just moved to this country from the Dominican Republic. She observes her street in Queens which is filled with different ethnicities and takes note of how the block reacts when a black family moves in. Throughout the poem the speaker listens as her neighbors, who do not consider themselves directly racist, complain about the problems that have moved in along with the black family. Line 51 best illustrates this point “Too bad the world works this way.” This line is ironic because the neighbors who are saying this are “the world.” They are the people who dictate how the world works and they have the power to change that as well. Yet, they fear change despite the fact that they themselves have also felt ostracized from the “American norm” as well. The poem ends with a very powerful message. It reminds us that we are all foreigners to this country and that there is no “right kind of American” there is only American. I also feel that it ends on a positive note. Because the poem is told from the point of view of a child who sees the flaws in her neighbors logic it leads the reader to believe that she will not continue these ways and will break the cycle of fear and hate in the future.
Langston Hughes “Theme for English B” also deals with the idea of race and acceptance of differences. This poem, however, not only celebrates our differences it also celebrates our similarities. The speaker is a black student at an all white college who was given the assignment in class to write what is true. The speaker does not want to be seen as a black student but rather just as a student. What is “true” is that he likes many of the same things as his peers despite their obvious differences. His race may define what he is, but it does not define who he is. The poem sends the message that although we might not realize it and sometimes deny it, we are all a part of each other. No matter what race we are, we are all a part of the human race. Therefore our actions, ideas, and emotions affect all people we encounter not matter where they come from.
Lucille Clifton also tackles the issues that face a black student at an all white school in her poem “this morning (for the girls of eastern high school).” The speaker is a girl who is chastised by her fellow students because she is black. She is described is described as a “jungle girl” and a “snake” both very unflattering terms by any measure. The speaker, however, turns these words around by describing herself as “bright” and “shinning.” At the end of the poem she realizes that because of the torment she receives at school she has not only survived, but grown stronger.
Jeffrey Harrison’s “Fork” deals with a different kind of acceptance; creative acceptance. The speaker of this poem was discouraged by a college professor because his work was different and because he did not conform to his teacher’s will and become another “disciple.” He was called “hopeless.” The speaker did not let this get him down, instead he used this negative energy to fuel his drive even more. This motivation manifests itself in the material form of the fork he stole from his professor’s home. He kept it for a long time, first using it to taunt his teacher, then using it a as a reminder of those who doubted him. Years go by and eventually he realizes that because he did not conform he has become successful. Once he is satisfied, he finds no more need for the fork which has been the symbol of his drive. He realizes that it is time for him to let go of his grudge, “It has served its purpose.” It has helped him work very hard to achieve great things and now, he is sending it back to the teacher. In reality this teacher has given him more than even the most encouraging teacher could have ever offered. By not believing in the speaker, the speaker was forced to believe in himself that much more. And because of that he has led a happy and fruitful life.
Jesuits believe that we must not love and serve others in spite of their differences, but because of them. Whether these differences are economic, racial, or creative we must embrace them and realize that they are what make each of us unique. By not conforming we are serving God by saying that we accept that we were made in His image and likeness and we will use our differences to do God’s work.