"Reapers" by Jean Toomer Analysis

Assignment Prompt

In a 300-word essay, analyze the theme of “Reapers.” Develop your essay by giving evidence of how the theme is developed; for example, you can examine poetic features such as diction, tone, and rhythm. Write the essay for an audience of your peers.

Sample Essay Answer

The main theme in Jean Toomer’s poem reapers revolves around the cruel conditions under which the black reapers were working that made them develop inhumane behaviors similar to those of the scythes machines they were using. It begins by explicitly mentioning that the reapers were “black” suggesting that they were of African American descent. The persona uses “black” as diction to describe the reapers and horses as if they were in close relationship. Indeed, they are both used to run the scythes machines. Therefore, they are termed black as a way of referring them to objects of work possessed by farm owners.

The seemingly miserable life of a black reaper is captured throughout the poem. In fact, the reapers are portrayed as non-emotional and unconcerned about what is going on around them. This is particularly because there is lack of empathy in the working conditions set by farm owners. Through this brutality, they have been disconnected from humanity and operate just like the machines they use at work. We can see that when the machine slices a field rat, it squeals in pain and releases blood which stains the scythes blade. However, the reapers continue with work as if nothing actually happened. It means that they do not have feelings about pain or death, which makes them more less like machines and not humans.

Toomer creates rhythm in the poem by using alternating rhyme in pairs throughout the poem. For example, lines 1-2 end with “stones” and “hones” and alternate with line 5-6 which end in “weeds” and “bleeds” respectively. Lines 3-4 rhyme by ending with “done” and “one” and then alternate with line 7-8 which end with “blade” and “shade”. The persona amplifies the poem’s rhythm by describing the activities of reapers in a manner that elicits musical sound to the reader. The reader cannot miss to recreate the rhythm of the “sound of steel on stones” as it occurs when workers are sharpening the steel blades. There is also rhythm is also evident in the fourth line of the poem where the persona describes the “one by one” swinging of scythes by workers.

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