Incident Literary Elements

Speaker or Narrator, and Point of View

The first-person speaker is an eight-year-old African American boy who is visiting Baltimore for the first time. He uses a non-omniscient poetic voice.

Form and Meter

The poem is written in ballad form, which alternates between iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter. A single iambic foot (meter) is made up of two syllables with the accent on the second: for example, “from MAY.” Iambic tetrameter has four feet of iambs and iambic trimeter has three. The poem is made of up three quatrains (stanzas of four lines). As is common with ballads, the second and fourth line of each stanza rhymes (ABCB). The rhyming words are “glee”/”me,” “bigger”/”Nigger,” and “December”/”remember.”

Metaphors and Similes

The poem uses no metaphors or similies.

Alliteration and Assonance

“Heart-filled, head-filled with glee” (alliteration)


While the poem’s title, “Incident,” refers to a brief or accidental event, in fact the racist incident it describes has a long-lasting effect on the speaker. Similarly, the poem’s ballad form, with its sing-songy rhyme scheme, sets up the reader to expect a light-hearted theme. However, the subject matter is quite heavy.


Ballad; twentieth-century formalist poetry; Harlem Renaissance


Baltimore, Maryland from May to December during an unspecific year (perhaps the 1910s)


Disappointed, frustrated, resigned

Protagonist and Antagonist

The protagonist is the speaker. The antagonist is another child his same age and size who sticks out his tongue and calls the speaker a racial slur.

Major Conflict

Racism is the major conflict of the poem. While the speaker is enjoying the sights and sounds of Baltimore, an encounter with racist prejudice ruins his ability to take pleasure in his surroundings.


The poem reaches its climax with the "Baltimorean" sticking out his tongue and using the N-word. Even though the incident happened a long time ago, the adult who is now writing about the memory has never forgotten it, thus revealing in stark terms the true consequences of racist behavior.



The poem as a whole is marked by understatement. Despite describing a painful incident, the poem has a matter-of-fact tone. The only emotionally heavy line occurs early in the poem when the speaker feels "Heart-filled, head-filled with glee." The wry tone of the poem suggests that understatement might be a coping mechanism for dealing with intense pain.


Metonymy and Synecdoche

The identification of the young boy with the term “Baltimorean” can be considered a form of metonymy in which the poet situates the boy as a representative of the character of much of white society in Baltimore specifically, and more broadly the underexamined racism of the North.