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Analysis and comments on Reapers by Jean Toomer

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George from Hungary
Comment 7 of 62, added on September 4th, 2010 at 6:05 PM.
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Black Kobe Shaq Simpson from United States
Comment 6 of 62, added on May 8th, 2010 at 2:40 PM.
My interpretation

When I initially read the poem I had thought that the word black in the
phrase, “black reapers with the sound… are sharpening scythes.” (Pg. 62)
was a descriptive word for the color physical characteristics of an item,
rather than black being used as a term for African Americans. Once this
realization that this was what the word meant, the poem became increasingly
clearer. The author uses the word black two times in his poem, once when
describing the reapers and again when describing the horse. The inference
that I received from the usage of the word black in both instances is that
the author is saying that the black reapers were viewed as objects or
possessions, just like one would view a horse as property. That their sole
purpose was not to be happy or live their life but they were put on this
earth to fulfill a goal of plowing the fields. In the eyes of a farm
owner, they were no better than a horse and were dehumanized as such.
The poem is describing the life of a black reaper and the disconnection
from it’s job due to its monotony. It talks about the repetitious and
unceremonial task of sharpening the scythe blade and plowing the field.
When reading the poem I felt as though this was just how the situation is;
the bleakness of the black reapers life and the inability to escape or
change it, the inescapable quality of it all. Due to the inability to
escape the role that the black reaper plays, the role dehumanizes him. For
example, “And there, a field rat, startled, squealing bleeds, his belly
close to the ground. I see the blade, blood-stained, continue cutting
weeds and shade.” (pg. 62) The reaper knows and has seen what his blade
has done but he continues as if nothing happened because he has become
disconnected from it all and therefore has lost the ability to care about
those less fortunate. They are no longer seen as casualties of the act,
rather their passing and their subsequent existence is not even
One can draw from the poem that the field rat may be being used as an
analogy to the treatment of African Americans. That society will step all
over them without ever acknowledging that they are alive, they can bleed,
and they can feel pain. Therefore, since human beings are creatures who
learn and are creatures of habit, in general, they will tend to engage in
actions similar to what has been done to them. Since the African Americans
have been trod on for so long, they have learned that this is how one acts
to those whom are inferior. Hence, the lack of empathy for the plight of
the field mouse on the part of the black reaper.
In the poem, the author who witnesses this act is merely an observer. He
doesn’t exhibit any remorse for the death of the field rat or for the loss
of the reaper’s humanity. He merely reports what he sees and leaves it up
to the reader to interpret the situation as they see fit.
Another important theme in the poem is the stark inevitability of life.
Toomer writes his poem with a matter-of-fact quality that doesn’t give room
for discussion. He states the fact that there will always be victims whose
squealing goes unheard. One can relate this to the feelings held by
slaves. One can infer that due to the feelings that slave owners held,
with regards to the value of a slave’s life, slaves saw no point in crying
out for mercy, their pleads went unheard just as the rat’s cry fell on deaf
Another key aspect of the poem, for me, was the word choice in the poem.
When writing the poem “Reapers”, Jean Toomer chose to call the animal in
the field a “field rat” instead of a “field mouse”. This decision may be
attributed to the language at the time, however, I don’t believe that that
is the reason. My belief is that when one hears the word “rat”, there is a
negative stigma attached to it. However, if one hears the word mouse, one
denotes a more compassionate emotion. For example, if I am told that there
is a rat in the house, my mind conjures the image of a large body, long
teeth, sharp claws and a whip-like tail. Due to this image, my instant
emotional reaction is one of fear and disgust. How is one to handle a rat
in the house with those images engrained in their mind? My gut reaction is
to kill it. However, if one says that there is a mouse in the house; my
mind conjures images of a small-bodied, cute, and innocent creature. My
emotional reaction is “awwwwww, poor thing” and my actions would parallel
my reaction. It is my belief that Jean Toomer, intentionally used the word
“rat” to convey society’s feelings regarding slaves. They were not seen as
helpless creatures, which merit compassion and sympathy, but rather as a
creature whose mere existence is to disgust and therefore are condemned to
a life of injustice and misunderstanding from birth.
In conclusion, the poem “Reapers” is one of my favorites because there is
a surprising amount of depth to the poem that one can read as simply
straightforward. It does not use colorful words or elaborate phrases to
elicit the reader’s response, instead it presents the reader with an
instance and asks the reader to interpret it as he will. The poem does not
preach about the treatment of others rather it asks the reader to derive
meaning themselves. I really like that a lot.

Jay R from United States
Comment 5 of 62, added on March 21st, 2010 at 11:07 PM.

the poem doesn't really mean a actual reaper, its symbolic the reaper is
supposed to be the African Americans in the fields that have to slave away
all day to cut whatever it is the old fashion way. the tools they used
looked like a scythe... the dying mouse is a friend or not even just a
person you are boarded with that is killed in the field but no one looks
because its as common as a field mouse. they reference the "black" horses.
they are silent because its a forced life.. its a poem from the Harlem
Renaissance era and is about breaking away from the mold of segregation. he
lives on one day at a time....

at least that was the interpretation that was taught in my class, and what
i got out of it.

Joelle from United States
Comment 4 of 62, added on April 21st, 2009 at 6:06 AM.

I am using this poem for a poem slam in my school. I did'nt know anything
about poets at first so i clicked on a random poem and i saw a poem that
looked interesting. I am starting to take interest in Jeam Toomer now.

Cassidy Pope from Germany
Comment 3 of 62, added on February 25th, 2009 at 4:16 PM.

By far, two of the worst analyses I have ever had the displeasure of

Talmage L from United States

This poem has been commented on more than 10 times. Click below to see the other comments.
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Information about Reapers

Poet: Jean Toomer
Poem: Reapers
Added: Feb 21 2003
Viewed: 307 times
Poem of the Day: Dec 21 2008

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