Dr. J. Showler
Racism in Literature
“The violence of beast on beast is read
As natural law, but upright man
Seeks his divinity by inflicting pain.”
- “A Far Cry from Africa”
In these lines from Derek Walcott’s “A Far Cry from Africa,” the speaker emphasizes the natural human tendencies to “inflict pain.” Similarly, in his poem, “Sympathy,” Paul Dunbar explores pain from the point of view of a bird being trapped in a cage. It flaps its wings and tries to escape but it cannot. The bird symbolizes an African American bound by slavery and unable to escape. On the other hand, in Claude McKay’s poem “The Harlem Dancer,” the dancer feels as if she is a slave to working in prostitution because she is being forced to do something she does not enjoy. The relationship between these three poems is the human nature of man to “inflict pain” on others by conquering and overthrowing the weak and powerless. This concept is survival of the fittest. Derek Walcott’s “A Far Cry from Africa” shows a painful and harsh representation of ethnic conflicts that occurred in Kikuyu, a small town in Kenya, Walcott lived. Since Walcott’s roots were both African and British, the invasion of the British into Kenya created an internal conflict within the poet concerning his own mixed heritage. His own internal quarrel is interpreted in the first two stanzas of the poem which refer to the Kenyan conflict. The second two address “the war within the poet as an outsider/insider, between his roles as a blood related insider to his country, but as an outsider due to his partial British heritage” said in A Far Cry from Africa Introduction at eNotes.com. This can be concluded from carefully reading lines 30 to 34 in the poem. Survival in this society is possible for those who are strong enough to make the decision as to which side of the war they are on. Paul Dunbar’s poem “Sympathy,”...