Thursday, February 3, 2011

Exploitation of Life and Nature Become Second Nature in "Reapers"

Black reapers with the sound of steel on stones
Are sharpening scythes. I see them place the hones
In their hip-pockets as a thing that's done,
And start their silent swinging, one by one
Black horses drive a mower through the weeds,
And there, a field rat, startled, squealing bleeds.
His belly close to ground. I see the blade,
Blood-stained, continue cutting weeds and shade. (Cane 5)

As I read Toomer's "Reapers" I was immediately struck with the grim outlook this poem provides. Beginning with the title, and on down through the text, it gave me the feeling that nothing good was coming from what Toomer was writing about. Toomer is trying to show how society at the time is slowly exploiting human life or at least the lives of the slaves. Perhaps he is saying that the lives of the slaves don't matter anymore than the weeds or the field-rat do. I say this because of the way the poem is constructed, not just because of the content. The poem is only one stanza in length, consisting of eight lines with a very simple aabb rhyme scheme. These stylistic characteristics significantly added to my critique in that these are things that do not require much thought to do. The rhyme scheme Toomer uses is not difficult to create either. Not to mention the length which requires little time to read and seemingly little time to write. With all of this being said I believe it was Toomers intent to criticize the fact that the ill treatment of the African American slaves or "Black reapers" has become such second nature to us, that it is equivalent to sending a "black horse" out to drive a mower that is going to destroy the habit for which he is a part of. I saw a definite link between the terms "Black reapers" and "Black horses." To me this was Toomers way of saying that the slaves or "reapers" were thought of as nothing more than a possession, just as a horse is thought of by their owner. I found this a very interesting ploy on the part of Toomer, and a great way to make a statement to the treatment of slaves.

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