Native Guard Essay

Topics: Southern United States, American Civil War, South Carolina Pages: 6 (1550 words) Published: November 2, 2014
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Alyssa Egstrand
Professor Sewell
ENG: The Literary Experience 1331
28 September 2011
Investigating the Impact of History on Modern Society within Natasha Trethewey’s Native Guard
Rooted in the shadows of history, Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey intertwines personal and historical accounts to scrutinize the impact of the past on the present. Trethewey’s Native Guard is divided into three sections, which chronicle her mother’s life and death, the erased history of the Louisiana Native Guard, and Trethewey’s childhood in Mississippi. These different stories amalgamate, and open a dialogue about the impact of history on today’s world. Throughout Native Guard Trethewey infuses emotion into these untold stories by including personal reflections regarding each event that transpired. The third and final section of the book though, is the most important component to the overall work; it details Trethewey’s connections to her memories of growing up in Mississippi. This section synthesizes each unique focus of Native Guard, and consequentially forms one united theme: the importance of remembering of the past—the recorded, the biased, and the erased—due to its impact on the future. The final poem, “South” of Natasha Trethewey’s Native Guard, specifically highlights this theme by utilizing extended metaphors, integrating of memories with historical details, and infusing irony to illustrate racial conflicts.

Trethewey begins the poem “South” with an extended metaphor discussing present-day racism in Mississippi, despite the leaps and bounds towards racial equality made since the defeat of the Confederacy in the Civil War. The metaphor focuses on the comparison between a

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phalanx of pine trees and the expansive growth of palmettos (1-15). The pine tree grove is utilized by Trethewey to disclose racial tensions that still linger in Mississippi towards African Americans. The phalanx is described as a “tangle/ of understory—a dialectic of dark// and light” (3-5). Trethewey’s use of the terms ‘tangle’ and ‘dialectic’ highlights conflict of intermingling black and white opinions. Furthermore, Trethewey also alludes to the past by claiming there is an ‘understory’ to these dissimilarities, one rooted in ingrained Southern prejudices. Her insightful word choice in both these instances emphasizes lingering racial conflicts, which consequentially reinforces the idea of the past’s influence on the modern-day society. To contrast the description of the pine grove, Trethewey includes the palmetto plants. The references to palmetto plants complicate the metaphor, but also enable Trethewey to address the influence of perpetual Southern racial intolerance on ethnic discrimination today. Trethewey equates this sentiment with the palmetto plant, and its establishment on the southern coast, a “…coast/ clear cut…// mangrove, live oak, gulfweed/ razed and replaced by thin palms—/ palmettos—symbols of victory//or defiance” (9-14). The Palmetto plant has a grand stature in the South, standing for both the triumphs of the Revolutionary War, and stigma of the Confederacy. The “palmetto became symbolic after the Battle of Fort Moultrie in 1776”, where the American troops used palmetto logs to defeat the British (“South Carolina Palmetto Flag”). But, this symbol, which once stood for freedom and victory, was tainted in 1861 when it was adopted as the official emblem of the South Carolinian flag once state seceded from the Union (“South Carolina Palmetto Flag”). With this allusion Trethewey reinforces the theory of the past’s influence on today’s society. In addition, Trethewey’s description of the palmetto plants adds yet another layer of these plants’ metaphorical importance. Primarily these plants are described as ‘symbols of victory’, a simplistic description interconnecting to Trethewey’s prior allusion to the

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Revolutionary War. By claiming that the palmetto plants show ‘victory’ also alludes to the South’s...

Cited: "South Carolina Palmetto Flag." Honor the Colors: Iowa 's Civil War Battle Flags. State
Historical Society of Iowa, n.d. Web. 27 Sep 2011.
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