The Idea of Ancestry

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Janina Conopio
ENGL 1302 (Omar)
3/17/2013
Why “The Idea of Ancestry” Matters
Often times a person lives their life based on how their own family would see it. Whether it disappoints or makes their family proud, it is inevitable; a person’s family will forever remain an important factor in their life, actions and the consequences that come with it. In “The Idea of Ancestry”, the author Etheridge Knight writes a poem where it is obvious that he is guilty of his actions and the shame and hurt it brings to his loved ones. Knight is haunted by the faces of his loved ones in his cell, and it is symbolic of the guilt he feels as he sits in prison and contemplates on his bad choices and addiction to heroin.

The poem begins by naming all the relatives that Knight has posted on his cell. It is evident that he feels ashamed with these faces looking back at him. “They stare across the space at me sprawling on my bunk. I know their dark eyes, they know mine” (326). Knight describes them to have dark eyes meaning that they are sad. “They know mine” simply means that his family knows the real Knight, yet they are saddened by what he has become. Knight says “I know their style, they know mine” (326). This line reiterates Knight’s point that they are all one person. Knight is guilty and ashamed of what he has become. When Knight says “I am a thief, I am me, they are thee” (326) it is clear that he knows what a bad person he has become. Knight feels guilty that even though his family knows him as a good person, they would have to “witness” him at his lowest.

Knight loves and cherishes his family very much. In the second verse Knight describes how he is or had been at one time in love with his mother, grandmother and the rest of the women in his family. It is clear, however, that they have all turned away from Knight when they learned that he did some bad things. His first two lines of the verse sums up the falling out he felt with the women in his family. “I have at...
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