Dreaming Black Boy by James Berry Prepared by Mrs. Schaaffe -Mc. Farlane
Dreaming Black Boy I wish my teacher’s eyes wouldn’t go past me today. Wish he’d know it’s okay to hug me when I kick a goal. Wish I myself wouldn’t hold back when answer comes. I’m no woodchopper now like all ancestors. I wish I could be educated To the best of tune up, and earn Good money and not sink to lick Boots. I wish I could go on every crisscross way of the globe And no persons or powers or Hotel keepers would make it a waste I wish life wouldn’t spend me out opposing. Wish same way creation would have me stand it would have me stretch, and hold high, my voice Paul Robeson’s, my inside eye a sun. Nobody wants to say hello to nasty answers. I wish torch throwers of night would burn lights for decent times. Wish plotters in pyjamas would pray for themselves. Wish people wouldn’t talk as if I dropped from Mars. I wish only boys were scared behind bravados, for i could suffer. I could suffer a big lot. I wish nobody would want to earn the terrible burden I can suffer. By James Berry
About the Author James Berry
James Berry (b. 1924) spent his childhood in a village in Jamaica, before working in the United States. He settled in Britain in 1948 where he has remained ever since. One of the first black writers in Britain to achieve wider recognition, Berry rose to prominence in 1981 when he won the National Poetry Competition. His anger at these injustices motivates some of his poems, particularly when writing about his father's ill treatment at the hands of his white employers. However, the overriding tone of Berry's poetry is one of celebration. Without denying the hurt of the colonial experience, he chooses to defy prejudice choosing instead to emphasize, the unity of cultures.
James Berry There is an emotional duality in his work. On one hand we see Berry's love of the sensual and imaginative richness of his Jamaican background in his work; on the other hand, this inheritance is contaminated with the bitter oppressions of slavery.
James Berry How does a poet represent two distinctly different cultures in their work? How did James Berry interpret his experience and those of other Jamaicans who migrated to England in the late 1940’s into his writing? James Berry was born in Jamaica in 1924, but moved to England during the wave of immigration from the West Indies led by the Empire Windrush. From a young age Berry had an interest in language, and showed an aptitude for spoken word and through writing soon realized he could explore the world from different perspectives. He became part of a new generation of post-colonial poets who drew inspiration from their country of birth in addition to British culture.
Content Point-of-view & Summary
Summary In the poem a little black boy had the dream that he would not be judged by the colour of his skin. In the poem the boy articulates his thoughts and emotions in abstract images. The poem might be seen as a wish list which draws attention to the areas which this boy sees the need for change. The word wish is used twelve(12) times. He dreams and wishes for the rights that should be bestowed to all human beings - recognition and love, the freedom of movement, freedom in the choice of careers and speech. These images used by the poet, appeal to the emotions and the reader sympathizes with the little boy.
Point-of-view The poem is told from the first person perspective as it highlights the injustices a little boy feels because of his race, not only in his classroom but also in the wider society. This point-of-view is advantageous as the persona is able to share and express the deep longing he feels for: o Justice o Equality o Freedom. This perspective helps to highlight the emotional turmoil of the speaker and shows his experience as being personal and authentic, eliciting from the reader a sense of sympathy.
Significance of the Title “Dreaming Black Boy”
Title The title “Dreaming Black Boy” is appropriate as it prepares the reader for the aspirations of a boy who is black. The fact that his colour is mentioned in the title suggests that the poem is about a boy who suffers discrimination because of his race.
Stanza by Stanza Summary & Analysis
Stanza 1 Stanza one places our young dreamer in his classroom. He longs for the attention of his white teacher who is in the habit of ignoring him (his eyes go past him) even when he does something outstanding, like scoring a goal. He knows that he probably contributes to his own lack of visibility in that even when he knows the answer, he clams up.
Stanza 1 He feels that since he is in the process of getting an education he should not behave like his wood chopper ancestors who were not educated. He uses this simile to show that he needs to be more confident, assertive and self-assured.
Stanza 2 Stanza two recognizes how important education is as a means of improving your status in society, and so the boy wants to be educated “to the best of tune up”. When musicians tune up their instruments, they are ensuring that they play at the right pitch. This boy is ambitious; he wants to be educated to the highest level possible. He doesn’t want to have to “lick boots” (metaphor); that is to do something low, wrong, disgraceful or demeaning to impress someone in authority because you want a job or a promotion.
Stanza 2 He wants to be free to travel all over the world without being humiliated by being told that there are certain places that he cannot enter because of his colour. “…no …hotel keepers would make it a waste. ” The word waste implies that he would be wasting time, effort and money if he cannot enjoy a trip that he pays for.
Stanza 3 In Stanza three, he wishes that “life wouldn't spend [him] out opposing”. (metaphor) We have two choices when confronted with injustice, either to accept the unfair treatment quietly, or to oppose it. Clearly he will not accept and so he is hoping for a life in the future where there is justice and equality for all so that he will have no need to oppose. A person who is spent is a person who is tired. He wants to do productive things with his life; he does not want to spend his life fighting for rights that should be his without any effort on his part. As a human being he is made with the ability to literally stand upright, but he wants to do more than the average human being, he will not be satisfied with mediocrity, he wants to excel.
Stanza 3 Note the metaphorical use of “stretch”. He admires Paul Robeson as an example of an African American who stretched metaphorically. Robeson excelled in several areas of his life. He was an outstanding scholar, actor, singer and activist for peace, racial justice and improved labour relations – hence the allusion to Robeson. “My inside eye a sun”(metaphor) speaks of his desire for brilliance, perception and understanding. If he does not have these qualities, he fears he will not be able to influence anyone into changing the status quo (the way things are). “Nobody wants to say hello to nasty answers. ”
Stanza 4 Stanza four begins with another important allusion. “Torch throwers of night” and the wish that “plotters in pyjamas would pray for themselves” (alliteration) are a clear reference to the nefarious (evil) activities of members of the Ku Klux Klan, some of whom actually claimed that in terrorizing black people and those who sympathized with them, by arson, torture and murder, they were carrying out God’s will.
Stanza 4 The boy wishes that Klan members would “burn lights for decent times”(metaphor). Instead of committing acts of terror, he would like them to use their energies to let their light shine by promoting acts of decency that would make the world a better place. (Note that light is a symbol for Jesus and for Christian values. ) He also wants them to pray for themselves. The stanza ends with his longing to be truly integrated into the society as people treat him like an alien, “as if I dropped from Mars”. (simile).
Stanza 5 Stanza five evokes our sympathy more than any of the other stanzas. Here we see a child who is vulnerable because parents who should be protecting their children cannot fulfill this important role. Although they put up a facade (a pretense) of confidence (bravados) in front of their children, they too are scared. The boy knows it and so he makes the anguished lament: “I could suffer. / I could suffer a big lot. / I wish nobody would want to earn / the terrible burden I can suffer. ” (repetition) His final wish expressed in the last two lines of the poem shows that the boy has a social conscience. He is not only concerned about himself, but he cares about all people.
Language Tone & Mood, Diction
Tone & Mood TONE The tone is wistful, longing as the boy repeatedly expresses a desire for the things that will make his society a better place and make him safe and happy. He never demonstrates anger or resentment although slight sarcasm may be detected in: “Wish plotters in pyjamas would pray for themselves. ”(lines 24 -25) There is also the element of fear and despair in his tone in the last stanza. MOOD A mood of anxiety permeates the poem.
Diction Words & Phrases I wish Okay to hug me No woodchopper Spend me out Nasty answers Plotters in pyjamas Only boys were scared Terrible burden Suffer Bravados Their Effect Berry’s diction in Dreaming Black Boy was effectively used to portray the desires and dreams of not only the persona but also all black boys at the time who faced discrimination. The words evoke sympathy in the reader as we are able to see how much blacks were denied during the period of civil unrest.
Techniques Figurative Devices
Repetition ‘I wish’ – the constant repetition of this phrase emphasizes/reinforces the persona’s desire for freedom and equality. “I could suffer. / I could suffer a big lot. / I wish nobody would want to earn/ the terrible burden I can suffer. ” – this is a lament from the persona who wishes he could share the burden of adults. He is also conscious of others as he would not want anyone to have to face things he has to.
Metaphor “lick boots” - this is to do something low, wrong, disgraceful or demeaning to impress someone in authority because you want a job or a promotion. This helps to reinforce the dreams and wishes of the persona. “life wouldn't spend me out opposing” - A person who is spent is a person who is tired. He wants to do productive things with his life; he does not want to spend his life fighting for rights that should be his without any effort on his part. If this spent is used in the context of money then the persona would have nothing left of himself after trying so hard to oppose those who are oppressing him.
Metaphor “My inside eye a sun” speaks of his desire for brilliance, perception and understanding. If he does not have these qualities, he fears he will not be able to influence anyone into changing the status quo. “burn lights for decent times” - Instead of committing acts of terror, he would like them to use their energies to let their light shine by promoting acts of decency that would make the world a better place.
Simile “as if I dropped from Mars”. – this expresses the persona’s longing to be truly integrated into the society as people treat him like an alien. “I’m no woodchopper now like all ancestor” – the persona wishes that unlike his ancestors who were mere woodchoppers, uneducated and lacked confidence, he would be brave enough to stand up for himself as he has opportunities they never had.
Allusion “Torch throwers of night” – this alludes to the klux klan who were a group of white supremacist people who burned crosses in front of the homes of black people or torched the houses.
Alliteration “Plotters in pyjamas would pray” - a clear reference to the nefarious (evil) activities of members of the Ku Klux Klan, some of whom actually claimed that in terrorizing black people and those who sympathized with them, by arson, torture and murder, they were carrying out God’s will.
Themes Central Issues and Ideas
Racism The poem explores theme of racism as it highlights the inequality and injustice faced by blacks during the 1950 s and 1960 s. The persona wishes for freedom from discrimination as he wishes that as a black person he will not be: o Ignored o Denied education o Denied the ability to go where he pleases o Denied the right to fulfill his dreams.
Childhood Experiences The persona is a child who is experiencing discrimination at the hand of his teacher and those around him. The language used by the persona is child-like when he says ‘nasty answers’.
Dreams & Aspirations The poem might be seen as a wish list which draws attention to the areas in which this boy sees the need for change. The word wish is used twelve times. He dreams and wishes for the rights that should be bestowed to all human beings - recognition and love, the freedom of movement, freedom in the choice of careers and speech.
Written Task 1. What are some of the problems experienced by the boy in this poem? 2. What are some of the reasons that cause discrimination? 3. What are some of the hopes and dreams of the little boy? 4. What is the tone of the poem? 5. How does the poem make you feel? 6. Describe the importance of the imagery of the poem. 7. What does the repetition of the phrase “I wish” reveal about the boy’s life?