We have been introduced to a selection of American poetry all to do with racism. In this essay I am going to look at the ways that two poets see racism in their culture. The poems that I have chosen to write about are ‘Strange Fruit’ by Abel Meeropol and ‘I Too’ by Langston Hughes. Abel Meeropol was a Jewish teacher living in the Bronx. He wrote Strange Fruit in 1938, after seeing a photograph of two men being lynched. Strange fruit refers to the bodies of the black people hanging from the trees.
This isn’t obvious in the first line, however in the second line where it says ‘Blood on the leaves and blood at the root’ it becomes obvious that it is about lynching. In the second stanza, Meeropol contrasts nature with reality as he writes: ‘Pastoral scenes of the gallant South, The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth’ People who were unaware of lynching and the dreadful way that black people were treated might of imagined South America as an idealized place.
By creating such gruesome visual imagery, Meeropol makes it a really successful contrast. He does this again in the second couplet of the stanza as he writes: ‘Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh, Then the sudden smell of burning flesh’ This contrast is even more dramatic than the first one as not only does it use visual imagery, it makes you imagine the smell of burning flesh. In the final stanza, Meeropol writes about nature’s effects on the bodies after being lynched.
If this stanza is read before knowing that the fruit refers to the black bodies then it would seem that effective, however knowing the true meaning of the fruit makes the reader saddened and touched by the poem. ‘I Too’ was written by Langston Hughes. It is about a black male servant who realizes that he is worth more than the way that he was being treated. And who wasn’t going to be afraid to stand up for himself. The first line of the poem is ‘I, too, sing America. ‘ The phrase ‘sing America’ is a metaphor for being part of America.
This shows the reader from the very start that the servant isn’t going to tolerate being pushed aside. The first stanza is about how he goes into the kitchen to eat his dinner when they have guests around, however I think he seems like a reasonably happy man as it says: ‘But I laugh, And eat well, And grow strong. ‘ In the second stanza he writes about when there are guests at the table the next day, he won’t go to the kitchen to eat. His reason for this reaction is explained in the three lines following the stanza.
He thinks that if he stays with everyone then the guests will see his beauty and feel ashamed for any prejudiced feelings. When looking at the similarities between ‘Strange Fruit’ and ‘I Too’, I think the most obvious one is that neither of the poets are prejudiced against black people. Hughes was black himself, so it is obvious why he saw things from that point of view as he may have been at the receiving end of peoples prejudices before. Meeropol was a Jew, and even though they had a lot more rights than blacks, they still had fewer rights than normal people had.
This means that Meeropol could probably sympathise more than a lot of people. The biggest difference between the poems, I feel, is that in ‘Strange Fruit’, black people are showed and unhappy but in ‘I Too’ we read about a man who seems reasonably happy with life but knows he deserves more rights. I feel that the impact that ‘Strange Fruit’ has one you after reading it can’t be compared with ‘I Too’ as ‘Strange Fruit’ is such a powerful, moving poem whereas you can read I Too and enjoy the poem, but it doesn’t effect your emotions as much.