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Sunday, May 2, 2010

That Bastard "Seventh Street"

“Seventh Street is a bastard of Prohibition and the War” (Toomer 5). I am going to break this line down into sections, the bastard of Prohibition and the bastard of the War. Before analyzing these two segments there needs to be a clear definition of the word bastard. Webster’s dictionary has three entries for the word bastard: first, an illegitimate child; second, a vicious, despicable or thoroughly disliked person; and the third, something irregular, inferior, spurious, or unusual. For Toomer to introduce the reader to Seventh Street by addressing it as a bastard does a couple things; the first is making Seventh Street look as if it is an unwanted segment of Whashington D.C., also it seems as though this is a preparation for the reader, preparing the reader for the remainder of the poem which will reveal some critical and provocative details about Seventh Street.
“Seventh Street is a bastard of prohibition…” (5) tells the reader that Seventh Street is not an authentic place, or that the origins and current condition of Seventh Street are due to the fact that Seventh Street is illegitimate. The ban placed on the sale of alcohol prompts the bootleggers to seek some kind of work, so as a result the work they choose is to sell liquor. This example shows the illegitimacy of job selection. The bootlegger did not choose to do the job out of free will. With his back against the wall with the ban placed on liquor he had no choice. Toomer’s use of bastard to introduce us to Seventh Street and the use of this example shows that Toomer wants to reader to be aware of the current situation happening on Seventh Street in Washington, D.C. “Seventh Street is a bastard of … War” (5). The residents of Seventh Street are there by consequence, those caused by World War I. This treatment of blacks reflects the time period in which Toomer wrote the poem. Many blacks served in World War I with white counterparts. On the return home, instead of being treated as a hero who fought for their country, blacks were thrown into the run-down section of Washington, D.C. Toomer’s introduction of Seventh Street with the use of bastard shows the attitude that he believed America took towards that section of D.C. and based on the bootleggers and residents I would have to say his analysis is correct.

1 comment:

  1. I like how you look at the blacks status as being forced into bootlegging and then mirror that with being forced into living the way that Toomer describes as a result of the war and white's. Looking at some of the further content, Toomer uses words like flowing and whirling to embody this image of stirring a large pot. We see black references through jazz music and the "white washed wood" of Washington. Yet, as you suggest, the blacks have no choice. They are the ones being stirred. They simply "flow" into whatever direction they are forced. The "white washed wood" functions as a fence to "put the blacks against the wall" or trap them in a corner as you also said. That is why Toomer calls for people who are wedges because the wedges serve to split the wood and disrupt the unconcious flow where blacks feel the need to bootleg or be bastards of the war. You made a really good observation that I definitely overlooked in my reading. Cool beans brah!