Interpretation of the poem “Jasper Texas 1998” by Lucille Clifton

Subject: Culture
Type: Analytical Essay
Pages: 3
Word count: 929
Topics: American Culture, Book, Poetry, Racism, Social Issues

The events that have been addressed in the poem “Jasper Texas 1998” by Clifton took place in Texas. The poet narrates the killing of James Byrd just because of his skin color. In 1988, James Byrd was attacked by three white men while he was walking home. In the poem, Clifton has explained it clearly to help readers to feel the sense of dehumanization and desolation that is triggered by racism that the black person is experiencing through server victimization by the white Americans.

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According to Feagin (2001), the first three lines of the poem depicts a real picture concerning the death of Byrd that takes the reader to the actual scene where the dying man was breathing for the last time in his lifetime. The reader’s perception is as though, he is witnessing the head of Byrd being separated from his body and his arms torn away while his hands opening once and then closes forever. In particular, it is very suggestive that the arms and the head were the organs that were cut off. It can be drawn that the poet seems to communicate the idea that the white killers did not only wanted to destroy the black’s intellectual power that was symbolized by the head but also wanted to downfall the black’s physical capabilities that are symbolized by the arm particularly the right arm.

Nonetheless, the poet, in particular, chose the head to speak on behalf of other body organs as if to suggest that Clifton prefers to say that the quest and the cause for social justice pertaining blacks are certain in each of the head of the black person which can easily express what other black require and desire. More so, the arm that experienced a lot of server victimization by the white murders appears to represent all the tyrannized blacks (p. 15).  In a more suggestive way, the arm had pointed to the direction of the head in a manner as if to narrate to the arm of the tragic story and to obtain back its justice from the whites who have oppressed the blacks and exploiting them.

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As per Lupton (2006), the horrible manner that Byrd was murdered triggered the poet’s anger who frantically asked: “why and why and why…..” (p. 25). From this, it can be drawn that the voice is for Clifton. As per line four to line six, it shows that Clifton is addressing the issue of racism in a manner that is categorical. Based on her views, the racial oppression that is being exercised by the White Americans in opposition to the blacks was beyond confines. The whites have not left any settlement space. It is through this that the poet finds it difficult to address a white man as a brother. The speaker of the poem then poses a question saying that “who is acting humanely; is it the murdered or murderer; the subjugated or the subjugator; or the thing that is being dragged?’’(p. 28). Basically, the questions do not need solutions since it is clear that the blacks who have been oppressed embrace a more civilized behavior as compared to the whites who are the oppressors who lack the required minimum appropriate conduct.

In most occasions, the poet surprises us based on her careful choice of words. For instance, when referring to “the dragger”; the poet employed only one word to imply that the doer is a human being. Nonetheless, Clifton does not employ the single word “dragged” neither does she phrase the dragged person to reference the victim instead she applied the phrase “the thing that is dragged” (Bryson, p. 8). This demonstrated the actions in regard to dragging and oppression that is being used against the oppressed black person. As a result, it indicates that the black man’s humanity is being nullified and making him a powerless being who can do nothing. This provides a strong evidence pertaining the substantial impact of the crime that was compelled against Byrd. In the last line of the poem, it ends on a sad note when the speaker mournfully states that “I am done with this dust….” (P. 12). From this, the poet clarifies out that it is defaming for the entire American society to allow such violent practices and attitudes of intolerance towards racism. Based on the views of an ecofeminist, the poem rests as a reminder in regards to the American society as well as the human race that the death of James Byrd has reflected to be a narrow-minded perspective that cannot acknowledge or accept the other as the sacred bond connecting all human beings. To comment on the poem, it has brought a great impact with respect to the minds and hearts of the American people.

From the poem, it can be drawn that all the human race have the opportunity to redeem itself by learning to embrace one another. It is evident from the poem that humans have enhanced racism and oppressing the helpless particularly black people by the whites.  If human race acknowledges the value of being interconnected with one another on this planet, then the current world can be transformed into a new great world.

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  1. Bryson JS. Introduction. In Ecopoetry: A Critical Introduction. Ed. J. Scott Bryson. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press. 2006, Pp. 1-13.
  2. Feagin JR. Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, and Future Reparations. New York: Routledge. 2001 p. 9-19
  3. Lupton MJ. Lucille Clifton: Her Life and Letters. Westport: Praeger Publishers. 2006, p. 23-34
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