Sunday, January 25, 2009

Forty Acres Analysis

Derek Walcott utilizes a variety of literary devices to create an elaborate metaphor of Barack Obama’s presidency, as well as the history that has led up to his inauguration. Obama is presented as “a young Negro at dawn in straw hat and overalls,” an image that features heavily throughout the poem. This figure plows through acres of land, sculpting it with his own hands to create something entirely new and different. By removing the cotton crops (an allusion to the days of slavery), this farmer is literally rebuilding his past so that the future can spring forth from the tattered ground. The last four lines reflect the effort that it takes to do this, as “the young ploughman feels the change in his veins, heart muscles, tendons…” Obama has endured much criticism for promising the somewhat empty words of hope and change. By taking office, however, Obama has indeed brought a change, both historically and literally.

This presidency will be watched very carefully, due to the nature of the economy and the state of America today. Walcott depicts “crows of predictable omens” and a “court of bespectacled owls’ that watch over the young ploughman, a clear metaphor for how Obama is seen through both critics and the media, respectively. In addition to this, there seems to be an intense rage surrounding all of the ploughman’s actions, such as the “gesticulating scarecrow,” the “moaning ground,” and “the lynching tree.” Each of these are symbols of fear and death, yet the young ploughman carries on with his work. Like his the work the young man does, Obama defies the negative history, the hateful past, and has proudly marches on with, as the poem puts it, a “tornado’s black vengeance.”


  1. Walcott’s A Poem for Barack Obama uses literary techniques such as punctuation, imagery, and oxymoron to present a theme of blacks’ perseverance through adversity encompassing the success of President Obama. The poet uses the character of a “young Negro” to embody the negative experiences of blacks in the United States that stem from slavery and institutionalized racism. Walcott states, “Out of the turmoil emerges one emblem, an engraving of a young Negro…, an emblem of impossible prophecy, a crowd dividing like the furrow which a mule has ploughed, parting for their president”. In the first line Walcott uses commas to illuminate the image of the ‘young Negro’ that personifies the accomplishments of blacks and President Obama, despite the adverse circumstances that they have faced. The diction Walcott uses, such as ‘turmoil’ and ‘one emblem”, emphasize that the Young Negro embodies the tumultuous past and progressive future for blacks. The oxymoron, “impossible prophecy” points toward the selection of a black president in America and how the racial status quo of America’s history caused many to doubt the possibility of such a phenomena. Prophecy denotes that an event will come to pass. To refer to a prophecy as impossible emphasizes that America’s laws and social norms worked to keep such an event as the selection of a black president from occurring, but despite such desperate social conduct President Obama becomes the first black president. The simile, “a crowd dividing like the furrow which a mule has ploughed, parting for their president” alludes to America’s history of slavery and disenfranchising of blacks and then refers to contemporary times that hold the possibilities for blacks to attain any position despite the racial hierarchy of America. Walcott’s poem presents America’s history of slavery and its present of opportunity at the same time through the “Young Negro”. The poem presents the experiences of those traditionally marginalized and makes it clear that much has changed in America as a result of individuals’ continual quest for equity despite the obstacles in their path.

  2. Hindsight provides 20/20 vision, yet the execution of unarmed citizens by the police, the persistent poverty of the many and the irresolution of the few to sustain the sustainable human and environmental resources provide adequate proof that the post is titular.