The titles of the works are “The Lynching”, “Bitter Fruit of the Tree”, and “Song for a Dark Girl”. These poems were written by Claude McKay, Sterling Brown and Langston Hughes. The genres for these works are horror, realistic fiction, and poetry. “The Lynching” was published in 1920, “Bitter Fruit of the Tree” was published in 1939, and “Song for A Dark Girl” was published in 1927. These poems are all relevant to the essay because they are about lynching and their experience on it. Each poem describes the horrors of lynching and how each of the characters’ beliefs and perspective comes into play.
The word “lynching” roughly means to falsely execute an individual in a mob. It is a terrible crime that happened during the 19th century in southern states. They did these heinous crimes to African Americans because they wanted to have white supremacy over them. They performed many different kinds of execution all in public to strike fear in hearts of blacks. But they did not only murder African Americans, they also lynched some specific white people too. The most likely killed whites that sympathized with the black community. The police didn’t little to nothing to prevent or stop the unjust killings. In fact most of the time, the officers participated in them. Enforcing lynching laws was nearly impossible, and so people didn’t dare to try and stop them in fear of becoming victims themselves. Because of these outbreaks of unreasonable murders, many people was killed and many loved ones were lost. These poems are a few examples of how each of the authors viewed, experienced, and approached lynching.
Claude McKay, Sterling Brown and Langston Hughes all have their own experience and thoughts about lynching; as they express them in their literature. All three of them write about a different perspective on the matter. In general, they all thought the same about lynching as evil, but there are significant differences on how they showed and themed lynching. In McKay’s work, “The Lynching”, McKay tells a story of a black man that was burned to death by a mob, and how the women and children dance and celebrated for their accomplishment. The theme of the poem is human corruption. He views these people as a diseased population that might one day affect the well-being of society. Any logically person would think how anyone could celebrate after committing a hideous sin. Because of this McKay believed that these crimes of the ignorant society will corrupt the children, and turn them into future murderers.
He saw how corrupted they already were when the “little lads, lynchers that were to be, Danced round the dreadful thing in fiendish glee.” This means that the kids will think something like is natural or right because their parents. If nothing was done, lynching would be intergraded into their culture. At this point they don’t know the difference from right and wrong. They don’t understand the cruelty and disturbing act that was committed right in front of them. This supports the fact that McKay believes lynching can be infectious to society especially to the children. He believes that because of how the children were acting around the dead body. McKay can predict what will become of them in the future.
Sterling Brown had a different approach to lynching for he believes that white people are arrogant. They are so arrogant that it doesn’t matter if they killed African Americans because to them blacks are dispensable. They use lynching as a tool to control the black community with fear. White supremacy was so extreme that they believe it was right to kill blacks and treat them like animals. According to the poem, it is a story about his family and all the hardship that they had to endure. Two of his grandmother’s sons were taken away from her, his grandfather was beaten to near death when he tried to escape, and his father’s was used to do hard labor without any type or reward or pay. It’s like telling them that there is no reason to get mad because everything is rightfully theirs and if you tried to stop them, there will be consequences. The white supremacy believed that “lynching was seen as the most effective means of control”. They used that fear of death or beatings to control the future generation. Because of that, they believe that they can do anything they want to them like. For example, the father that was being used for all his hard work planting the crops didn’t get anything in return. He didn’t dare stand up to them in fear of being beaten or killed like his father was. This evidence supports the idea of the white supremacy thinks that they are better than blacks and can control them by using fear tactics. Because of that, they think they can do whatever they please without consequences.
Langston Hughes also had a different opinion about lynching. Hughes believes that lynching mainly occurs in the southern states, and that the white supremacy will Unjustly execute anyone who they despise and hate. He also believes that no one was willing to help the victims because they don’t to become victims themselves. In Hughes’ poem, “Song for a Dark Girl”, the girl’s lover is badly beaten and hanged right in front of her. The theme in this poem is helplessness to do anything and just observe. Hughes is “less concerned with wrong and right than with circumstance and effect”. He already knows that lynching is evil, but he is more concerned about how the other people would react and what they would do. It had a great effect on the girl because now she questions and doubt her faith. The girl couldn’t have done anything for him, and instead pray to white Jesus. At last, it was in vain because her lover was hung naked on a tree. He was killed for no good reason, and no one tried to stop it. While watching the event, she “asked the white Lord Jesus, what was the use of prayer?” The lover’s body symbolizes Jesus and how he died for the sins of others. This proof shows Hughes thought process. He focused on the girl’s reaction and feelings instead of the actual lynching. The girl could only watch as her lover was being lynched and feeling of helplessness broke her heart. She could only describe the horrible scene that she witness. She lost faith in the white Jesus that she used to believe in.
All of these poems describe the horrors of lynching and how the authors felt, thought, and believed about the topic. McKay believed that lynching will corrupt the children and future traditions. Brown knew that the white supremacy used lynching as a tool to control people with fear. Hughes focused on the effects and consequences of lynching than the action of doing it. Even though all their ideas, views, and beliefs were a bit different, they are all connected to one another. The White supremacy used lynching to control people, which in turn make the children want to imitate their parents. When that happens, it will become a tradition and spread like an infection. What would you do if you witness lynching during this time period and how would you feel? Would you try to stand up to the wrong doers knowing that you’re putting yourself in danger?
Baym, Nina, ed. The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Packet II. 7th ed. New York: Norton, 2007.
McKay, Claude. “The Lynching.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Packet II. Baym, Nina, 7th ed. New York: Norton, 2007.
Brown, Sterling. “Bitter Fruit of the Tree.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Packet II. Baym, Nina, 7th ed. New York: Norton, 2007.
Hughes, Langston. “The Lynching.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Packet II. Baym, Nina, 7th ed. New York: Norton, 2007.
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