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What is Africa to me:
Copper sun or scarlet sea [?]
In these opening lines, the narrator is contemplating his complex and long-standing relationship with Africa. Here, it is made very clear that the narrator’s first response to Africa is one of fondness. He uses very particular adjectives that illicit a sharp and specific vision in the reader’s mind. The description of the sun as copper and the sea as scarlet paint a richly beautiful visage of Africa. In this way, it is clear that the narrator views Africa as home—a place rich with beauty and familiarity.
So I lie, who all day long
Want no sound except the song
Sung by wild barbaric birds […]
It is at this point in the poem that the narrator begins to expose his complex relationship with Africa. He suggests that Africa is not the entirely beautiful place he described, but is rather filled with “wild barbaric birds.” It becomes clear that the narrator is in conflict with his feelings about his heritage and country. Though this conflict is not explored further until later in the poem, it is here that the narrator hints that his relationship with his heritage and Africa is complex and not as positive as he described earlier.
Though I cram against my ear
Both my thumbs, and keep them there,
Great drums throbbing through the air.
Here, the narrator begins to explore the true nature of his cultural conflict. It becomes clear that the narrator feels torn between his black heritage and his white expectations. He feels pressure from white men to abandon his heritage and conform to the white perspective. He feels so pressured by the white men to abandon his heritage that he plugs his ears with his thumbs in an attempt to ignore the throbbing drums of Africa. In other words, the narrator describes the horrible internal struggle he feels. He is torn between an obligation to his African heritage and the expectations of the white men he is now surrounded by.
My conversion came high-priced;
I belong to Jesus Christ,
Preacher of humility;
Heathen gods are naught to me.
Here, the narrator addresses the sacrifices he has made to conform to the white perspective. Here, he refers to the abandoning of his religion and the adopting of the Anglo-Saxon religion. The narrator explains that, to survive in this world, which is dominated by white men, he must forget his African identity. Included in this identity are the narrator’s religious beliefs. To survive, he therefore disclaims his religious beliefs and religious identity. He admits to following the “heathen” religion of Jesus Christ. He explains that this sacrifice was made at a high price—his cultural and religious identity. In this way, we learn that the narrator has sacrificed much of his African culture than he loved and admired so dearly.
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