Treatment of African Americans in 20th Century America, as It Pertains to Johnson’s Poem
The Black Woman poem by Georgia Douglas Johnson defies the natural desire and willingness to give birth, which is essentially a literal and natural idea for every woman. This is based on the fact that the speaker in the poem insists, “I must not give you birth” and this has an implication that a mother cannot be happy and celebrate the birth of her child in a world where black people are viewed as outcasts. In this case, Georgia Douglas indicates that the world in which the poem was developed was an anti-black world and could not appreciate the birth of other black people. This is the height of racism in the society in which black people are looked down upon and discriminated (Papke 97).
In this poem, it can be stated that African American women were despised and could not have access to decent health care and nursing facilities. This means that giving birth was problematic since the nurses (who were not black) could not help them and take care of their children. This denaturalizes women and seems to suppress their desire to become mothers. This means that the gender norms of the African American women took the place of low esteem since they were viewed as lesser beings in the society as compared to other people (Hutchinson 39). African American women were prejudiced against because of their race and gender and these injustices were coupled with both psychological and physical suffering due to the mistreatments that they underwent.
Poetic Style: use of line length, indentation, stanza breaks
The poet in Black Woman uses short and regular lines in the stanzas of the poem so as to present precise and clear information to the reader. For instance, the author writes,
“The world is cruel, cruel, child,
I cannot let you in!”
The lines are short and this has a thematic meaning to the poem as it indicates that the message is clear and does not need any further explanation as to how cruel the anti-black world is as insinuated by the poet in this context. There is indeed a visual effect of the line length in the poem to the intended message being communicated by the speaker in the poem (Hutchinson 61).
The poet does not use indentation and stanza breaks in the poem and this could be linked to the thematic concepts being portrayed in the poem. Since indentation is usually aimed at showing new lines that rhyme and new ideas in the poem, this does not apply to Black Woman poem since it only presents a single idea (tribulations of black women).
The tone and mood of the speaker of the poem
The tone and mood of the speaker in the poem reflects the pain that the African American women underwent during the period within which the poem was written. The author uses a personal tone in which she uses the first person singular form of writing. For instance,
“I cannot let you in!
Don’t knock at my heart, little one,”
The mood of the poem as portrayed by the speaker is a frightening mood. For instance, the poet affirms that,
“You do not know the monster men
Inhabiting the earth,
Be still, be still, my precious child,
I must not give you birth!”
The meaning and shock of the final line of the poem
The final line of the poem shocks the reader since a mother cannot be happy and celebrate the birth of her child in a society where black people are viewed as negatively. In this case, it is portrayed that the world in which the poem was developed was an anti-black world and could not appreciate the birth of other black people (Papke 78).
Compare the poem to the image of the mother/child depicted in the Romare Bearden painting on page How is the relationship between mother/daughter similar, different?
The relationship between the poem and the image indicates a difference since in the image, the mother embraces and holds her daughter. This means she was willing to give birth to a child unlike in the poem where the speaker is unwilling to give birth because of the mistreatment that black women face in the society.
Papke, R. Poems at the Edge of Differences: Mothering in New English Poetry by Women. Universitätsverlag Göttingen. 2010
Hutchinson, G. The Cambridge Companion to the Harlem Renaissance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2007.