Honors English 9
May 10, 2012
Countee Cullen’s Poem Incident
Probably the most underrated African American poet of his time, Countee Cullen is a very rebellious protester themed writer who is all about securing the rights and dignity of black people and uses that very passion to fuel his poetry. In the poem “Incident”, Cullen uses a mixture of rhetorical devices which he incorporates into his ironic rhythmic syntax to help emphasize to readers the effect of racism had on children living in the early -mid 1900’s, a big time of racism. Written in 1925, Cullen used this poem as a way for him to vent his feelings and frustration and inform the ignorant all at the same time. The poem talks about a young African American boy who is excited that he is visiting Baltimore and while there he comes across another young boy that is his same age and size but he is white and then the young boy is surprised by a powerful and crude racial slur. The poem is not as head as Cullen makes it seems, it is actually an ironic poem. The first hint of irony is found early in the poem “Now I eight and very small/And he was no whit bigger” (5-6). A reader would think that the racist bullying would come from someone bigger than the kid in the poem when in all actuality it was from someone his own size, and that’s exactly what Cullen is trying to show, that racism came from all ages and happened between all spectrums of ages, a teen and an adult, an adult and a child, anyone. The Spencer 2
irony does not stop there, you see another glance of it in the last stanza, “And he was no whit bigger”(6). In the poem wit is spelled W.H.I.T but, the correct spelling of wit is W.I.T and this is no spelling error, this is actually a small pun Cullen uses to help emphasize his racial theme. It’s as if Cullen takes the “E” off of white and if it’s put back it’s “No white-bigger”. Cullen used this play on words to show the mental deception that was used by white people used to make...
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