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Close Reading of Alice Spencer’s “White Things”

The works of Anne Spencer, one of the well-known representatives of women’s poetry of the 20th century, are distinguished by their vivid and expressive literary techniques. In her poems, she touches upon serious aspects of interpersonal relationships and universal values. As an object of analysis, her poem “White Things” will be examined. The literary tools and style reflect the poetess’s indignant and even aggressive stance on racial inequality, which was an acute issue during her career. Evaluating her poem reveals how dangerous social inequality can be and how racial bias entails such an unjustifiable crime as killing innocent people.

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General Observations

One of the key techniques that Spencer uses in this poem is contrast. From the very beginning, she uses the metaphor of color to convey the diversity of life and utilizes nature as an auxiliary tool: “most things are colorful things – the sky, earth, and sea (Spencer 259). The main context is the oppression of national minorities by white colonialists. For persuasiveness, the poetess repeats individual expressions, thereby emphasizing their meaning – “so rare, so rare” (Spencer 259). Many epithets are another feature of the poem, which is an approach to emphasize the contrast even more. Spencer describes “golden stars,” “darkened pine,” and red hills, but the key meaning of this technique is to convey the same subtext of racial difference (259). The use of verbs in almost every stanza of the poem allows the poetess to maintain a tense syllable and convey specific actions clearly – stole, strewed, blanched, turned, burned, and some others (Spencer 259). The meaning that Spencer puts into these techniques is evident: she has a clear position on the proposed problem and conveys her concerns through such a nervous style by emphasizing each action individually and acutely.

Context and Meaning

Since the poet herself was the representative of the racial minority community, her work and, in particular, “White Things” convey the idea that she advocated throughout her career. By emphasizing the superiority of whites over blacks, Spencer uses unambiguous metaphors to reflect aggression – “they pyred a race of black, black men” (259). The inability to influence those events is felt in the poetess’s impotent rage, and she seeks to convey her grief through literary devices and techniques. The mention of not only African Americans but also Native Americans proves that Spencer is concerned both with the problem of the black population and other ethnic minorities. People who suffered from the atrocities of colonialists and their aggression based on racial hatred are the target audience. Slavery issues are another context that also comes up in the poem. Spencer states: “black men are most men; but the white are free!” (259). This thesis helps her convey her position on an evident racial division and makes it possible to argue that freedom is one of the main human benefits that cannot be taken away or questioned.

Analysis of the Poem’s Literary Style

Although the poem is titled “White Things,” the key subtext is hidden in emphasizing the importance of the life of other races and their right to freedom. The allegory used to reflect the violence of the white population towards the black reveals the essence of the problem – colonialists’ total domination: “and burned them to ashes white” (Spencer 259). In addition, the contrast that is the poetess’s key technique conveys her great despair. She tries to persuade the reader that no community can dominate over others due to the initial equality of people: “for the skull of a black is white, not dull” (Spencer 260). The structure of the rhyme is simple, which is done on purpose so that not to distract the reader with complex constructions from the key message. The poem ending with an appeal to God carries a semblance of prayer. Spencer states: “men-maker, make white!,” thereby demonstrating the powerlessness of the colored population to resist white aggression and a request to equalize people to avoid further bloodshed (260). All these techniques serve the same purpose – to convey to the reader the inadmissibility of bias and racial violence.

Significance of the Poetess’s Message

A crime against humanity perpetrated on the basis of racial bias is the key theme of Spencer’s poem devoted to the inability of ethnic minorities to defend themselves against white colonialists’ and slave owners’ aggression. The use of the aforementioned literary devices and the approaches taken by Spencer emphasizes the importance of the problem she raised. The unambiguousness and rigidity of the verbs, metaphorical contrast, and numerous epithets make it possible to understand how relevant the issue of social equality is and what unacceptable manifestations of cruelty racial bias can carry. The significance of paying attention to this topic is conveyed through clear messages, and calling out to God is an extreme degree of despair that the reader can notice in the poetess’s words. Thus, the poem in question is a valuable work that helps draw attention to an acute social problem through effective tools of influence and direct calls to stop the violence that has no objective grounds.

Work Cited

Spencer, Anne. “White Things.” The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women: The Traditions in English. Vol. 2. 3rd ed., W. W. Norton & Company, 2007, pp. 259-260.

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