Saturday, June 21, 2014

Analysis of "Incident" by Countee Cullen

Original poem reprinted online here:  "Incident" by Countee Cullen
Originally read: November 5, 2013
More information about the Poet: Countee Cullen

So this is a narrative poem with a xbxb rhyme scheme.  Something is lost along the way, and something is gained.  The three quatrains are formed as a beginning - middle - end.


     Once riding in old Baltimore,
     Heart-filled, head-filled with glee.
     I saw a Baltimorean
     Keep looking straight at me

With this stanza there's a clear distinction of the "visitor" and that's the speaker.  Note the emphasis on "glee" as though to pronounce a sense of innocence.  Then the introduction of the "Baltimorean"  as a "native" that stares at the speaker.  Note how the "Baltimorean" acts while the speaker thinks.


     Now I was eight and very small,
     And he was no whit bigger,
     And so I smiled, but he poked out
     His tongue, and called me, 'Nigger'

So the first two lines deal with age and size.  While the speaker clarifies his age and size at the time, the speaker doesn't clarify the age of the "Baltimorean" rather the attention to size -- no size bigger (well it rhymes).  The focus is on the "size" of the other and there's an equality here.  The age, again, reinforces a sense of youthful innocence.

When the "Baltimorean" makes fun of the young speaker and calls him a nigger, note the difference of set up -- a smile versus a racial remark.  It's not about the "Baltimorean" in a characterization sense at this point, it's how the "incident" created the character within the speaker.


     I saw the whole Baltimore
     Form May until December,
     Of all the things that happened there
     That's all that I remember.

This incident takes over the memory of the speaker.  The incident was something remembered.  There's an implied confusion on how to respond -- there's no tone of anger, or hatred, pity or fear, just the incident.  The incident didn't ruin the trip, but it was the trip.  Something that stuck with the speaker.

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