Between the World and Me

Between the World and Me Literary Elements



Setting and Context

Contemporary America

Narrator and Point of View

Coates writes in the first person and in epistolary form to his son.

Tone and Mood

Angry, passionate, bleak, resigned, steely, cerebral

Protagonist and Antagonist

No official protagionist and antagonist, but whites/Dreamers/racists are the enemy because they destroy the black body.

Major Conflict

Several questions arise in the book and form the central conflict(s): How is a black person to grow up in an America whose history is characterized by the enslaving and killing and oppressing of black people, and that is filled with Dreamers who like to pretend that there are no racial problems anymore and that their pursuit of the Dream is noble? What does a black person do to find meaning? What do they struggle for?


This is not a novel, but the climax of the book may be when Prince Jones is killed.


There is foreshadowing/hypothesizing in that Coates suggests more black people will be killed and the Dreamers will jealously protect their status and thus destroy the world without waking up.




Coates references the Trail of Tears and the Middle Passage, both horrific parts of American history in which Native Americans and slaves were brutalized. Multiple black individuals who were killed in 2015 are mentioned: Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Renisha McBride, and Tamir Rice. Multiple historical black figures are also mentioned as powerful ancestors: Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner, etc. Finally, Coates references Prometheus as someone who hated the birds (36).


See Imagery


John Alexander writes in his review of the book for Brevity: "To read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me is to savor a nuanced, layered paradox that rhymes disturbingly with the complicated reality in which we live. The Dreamers, Coates’ metaphor for people who 'believe they are white' and are living the good life, have forgotten the cost and have forgotten, in fact, that their dream is a luxury paid for by the suffering of others. The Dreamers, Coates asserts, are extraordinary engineers of their own forgetting, stopping America’s heart in the process."



Metonymy and Synecdoche



"The Dream smells like peppermint but tastes like strawberry shortcake" (11).