There is an implied threat in “A Poem Some People Will Have To Understand” by Leroi Jones. Ostensibly, there is no intimidation. The poem is confessional, even reflective; the theme is one of mutability and change. However, there is something frightening and ominous in Jones1 vision, which he creates through attention to word choice and structure.
Jones’ warning is immediately evident in the title through his manipulation of words. The phrase “have to” has two meanings. One the one hand, “have to” is an innocuous statement of the alliance Jones expects to find among his Afro-American readers–these people will “have to” understand the poem because it speaks to their individual, personal lives. On the other hand, there is a more sinister connotation in “have to”–the idea that others will “have to” understand this poem because they will be forced to do so.
Beyond the title, Jones creates a forbidding speaker–a man at a crossroads, or rather, at a moment of decision. However, the structure of the first stanza is direct and conservative, almost prosaic. Jones gives us nothing that is revolutionary here. Instead, he lays the groundwork for this piece with the gloomy initial images of “(d)ull unwashed windows of eyes”(1). These eyes are no doubt those of the speaker, and they have been dulled and dirtied by his existence as a black man in the post-segregation 1960s. The “industry” he mentions in lines 2 and 3 is both the industry of the American machine that exploits the underprivileged, and the industry he “practice(s).” The speaker is a self-professed “slick / colored boy, 12 miles from his / home” who practices “no industry” (35). By “…
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…The promised “phenomenon” has not come, and it is now up to him to bring it about through violence. Jones does not allow the speaker to lose any of his charm as he politely invites his “machinegunners”–the tools of his new industry–to “please step forward” (26). He is a hustler to the end, a smooth-talker who is now at home in his new ego and his new profession.
Jones employs the dynamics of change to his speaker throughout the poem. From an aimless vagrant to a passionate revolutionary, Jones plots his speaker’s course using specific words and structural techniques. Through these elements, we witness the evolution of a new black man–one who is not content with the passivity of his earlier spiritual leaders. We are left with a threat–a steel fist in a velvet glove of poetry–and it becomes a poem that we “have to” understand, whether we want to or not.
Jack Kerouac’s On The Road – The Impact of Dean on Sal’s Identity
Impact of Dean on Sal’s Identity in On the Road
In part I, chapter 3 of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, Sal arrives at Des Moines and checks into a cheap, dirty motel room. He sleeps all day and awakens in time to witness the setting sun. As he looks around the unfamiliar room, Sal realizes that he doesn’t understand his own identity. Identity lost, he states “I was half way across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future.” He has lost the calming influence of his aunt, and Dean and partners are not around to feed his wild streak. The only clues to his identity are to be found in the strange motel room. This appeal to emotion gives the reader personal hints to identify with.
Many people have become lost in the context of their life and do not understand what they have been doing or what the purpose of existence is. The manner in which Kerouac relates his own feelings to the dark, soothing atmosphere of the room gives the reader a clear idea as to what he is experiencing. This appeal to style lulls the reader into contemplation concerning their…
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… of my life you could call my life on the road.” Sal needed Dean to have an identity. In fact, as much of a driving force that Dean was, in the end, Dean and Sal needed each other to balance out the holes in their personalities.
Charters, Ann. Kerouac: A Biography. New York: A Warner Communications Company, 1973.
Kerouac, Jack. On the Road. United States of America: Penguin, 1976.
Tytell, John. Naked Angels: the Lives and Literature of the Beat Generation. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976.