Maureen Honey: On "Tenebris"

Angelina Weld Grimké's piece, "Tenebris," echoes this subtle assertion of self against white control: . . . .

By likening the branches of a tree to a hand "huge and black," whose shadow rests against "the white man's house," Grimké invites us to find in her image a statement about the relationship of Blacks to white society. One reading of the poem is that it sees Black struggle as a subterranean, persistent chipping away at white structures. The black hand "plucks and plucks" at the bricks, which are "the color of blood and very small," at night, when the occupant is sleeping, falsely secure that the image on his house is the shadow of a harmless tree. Yet the last line asks: "Is it a black hand, or is it a shadow?" and we are left sensing that the white man's house is in danger. The portrait of a house built with blood-colored bricks evokes memories of the big house on a plantation maintained by the blood and sweat of slave labor. It is also haunted by the ghosts of people whose anguish and anger are growing shadows on the white man's power, gathering force while he basks in his privilege.


Title Maureen Honey: On "Tenebris" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Maureen Honey Criticism Target Angelina Weld Grimké
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 15 Jun 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Shadowed Dreams: Women’s Poetry of the Harlem Renaissance
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