Jean Toomer’s Reapers utilizes the dual definition of the title word as a metaphor for death and destruction. A reaper is farm tool used to cut down and mow fields, yet Toomer plays off of this instrument to help personify Death, or the “Grim Reaper.” In the poem, the reapers are black, with “the sound of steel on stones.” This dark imagery helps create an image of evil destroyers, coming to rip the land to shreds as they ride their black horses. With these apocalyptic allusions, Toomer is stating that mankind is bringing forth the end of the earth, literally hacking its way through nature. The sound of their sharpening is a warning, a foreshadowing of the blood to come, yet the reapers are quiet, taking life without recourse.
The blades are always sharp, or within reach of being sharp, as the reapers keep their hones within hip pockets. This suggests that mankind is ready to destroy at any moment, silently and swiftly. Furthermore, man does not care who or what gets in his way, as the field rat meets his end via blade. To further illustrate the rat’s lack of importance to man, we do not actually see its’ death (save for the squealing), just the aftermath from it. Either its’ death is too pitiful, or more likely, Toomer is stressing the importance of the unimportant. . Oddly, the reapers cause a cycle, as they end a harvest that will happen again within a year’s time. The rat, however, is caught in a foil, as its death is the end with no possible hope of being resurrected.