Essay on Reaping What Our Ancestors Sowed: A Metaphorical Look at African American Slavery

Paper Type: 
Pages:  2
Wordcount:  484 Words
Date:  2023-05-30

"A Black Man Talks of Reaping," the poet Arna Bontemps, employs the use of metaphor on African American slaves and the systemic oppression by the whites. The black man works hard only for the white man to rip the sweat of the black man (Bontemps, 116) Farming is used as a metaphor to depict bitterness and anguish felt by the African Americans in the racist nation. The newer generations take advantage of what they have and are not appreciative of what their ancestors did to get them to where they are.

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African Americans do all manner of work for the white community, and they get nothing, no incentive nor appreciation any profits from that work. The poem demonstrates symbolically that the Black Americans understood their fate that no matter how hard they worked, their succeeding generation as bound to suffer a similar outcome. The title of the poem, a black man Talks of reaping, is in itself an irony. It is ironic on the basis that a slave in this context cannot, in any way, be guaranteed harvest when working for a Whiteman. Several words have a symbolic meaning; for instance, words "grains," "planted," and "sown" meant the practice of farming.

Symbolism is one literary aspect that is depicted in the poem. The visual illustration of the painted farmer, as drawn in the poem, shows a farmer who appears determined and grim, much like the speaker. The farmer's clothes are worn and tattered, depicting the handworks that he has been subjected to all of his life. However, the building seen in the background of the painting represents abject poverty and brings the reality that the rewards of his labor are enjoyed somewhere else. The picture talks more about the African American experience and systemic oppression.

The poem reflects society during the Harlem Renaissance since this was the period in history where Africans were perceived as not humans but close to animals (Howes, 2001). They were subjected to slavery, systemic oppression, and were deemed as persons not capable of having rights. They suffered at the hands of the whites. The poem is relevant to the current society on the basis that it gives a narration of historical facts, especially the oppression of the blacks because of the content of their skin. It provides a clarion call that persecution of the black man ought to stop as we are equal.

The title is pretty uncomplicated. The poem is centered on the idea of oppression of the Blackman through slavery, where reaping is a non-reality though he worked hard. The benefits go to the white man who happens to be a landowner. The black man, though he sowed many seeds harvest little.


Bontemps, Arna. "A black man talks of reaping." Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry (2009).

Howes, K.K., 2001. Harlem Renaissance (Vol. 1). UXL.

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Essay on Reaping What Our Ancestors Sowed: A Metaphorical Look at African American Slavery. (2023, May 30). Retrieved from

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