Theme of racism.
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Hints of anti-slavery sentiment and an opposition to racism occur in this poem, but they are not the main message. The equality of human beings is, however, emphasized by the poem in its depiction of God creating the world as an act of divine mercy, giving the sun to shine upon and warm all people everywhere as a preparation for the light and heat of His love. The black boy at first sees his blackness negatively, since he seems to be at odds with his own soul, while the English boy is white on both the inside and the outside. The boy’s mother sets him straight, however; the outward appearance is but “a cloud” to dim the sun’s light and heat until each person is ready to endure it directly.
The black boy accepts this explanation, and even envisions himself as having come through the world’s testing stronger than the white English boy; he strokes the boy’s hair as a mother would her child. While the two boys will one day be equal in love, the poem suggests that the black boy’s trials in this life will result in his being spiritually superior to the untried white boy.
No matter their relative positions in this life or the next, the theme of equality of men before God is strongly prevalent in this poem. The black boy and his mother have voices whereas the white English boy is silent, and both black and white will one day be recognized as pure souls before God.