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CSEC English B: Dreaming Black Boy by James Berry Analysis

Updated: Jan 11, 2021




Dreaming Black Boy

James Berry

I wish my teacher’s eyes wouldn’t go past me today. Wish he’d know it’s okay to hug me when I kick a goal. Wish I myself wouldn’t hold back when answer comes. I’m no woodchopper now like all ancestors. I wish I could be educated to the best of tune up, and earn good money and not sink to lick boots. I wish I could go on every crisscross way of the globe and no persons or powers or hotel keepers would make it a waste. I wish life wouldn’t spend me out opposing. Wish same way creation would have me stand it would have me stretch, and hold high, my voice Paul Robeson’s, my inside eye a sun. Nobody wants to say hello to nasty answers. I wish torch throwers of night would burn lights for decent times. Wish plotters in pyjamas would pray for themselves. Wish people wouldn’t talk as if I dropped from Mars. I wish only boys were scared behind bravados, for I could suffer. I could suffer a big big lot. I wish nobody would want to earn the terrible burden I can suffer.


Summary

The persona is a young black male wishing for things he should have already been guaranteed for being a human. He has suffered great racial discrimination throughout his life, and this has affected him to the point where he isn't as bold as he should be. He knows that he is different from his enslaved ancestors, but he feels still trapped by the prejudice he has to bear. He wants to travel the world and be educated, rather than having to do demeaning jobs to get by. He wishes to be like the revolutionary Paul Robeson, whom he idolizes. This boy has suffered through seeing members of the Ku Klux Klan discriminating against and lynching black people like him, and he hopes that no one else has to bear this terrible burden he does. The speaker’s tone is one of wistfulness, subdued optimism, restrained anger, sadness and despair. Like the attitude of the black boy, the atmosphere of the poem is one of despair, sadness and deep suffering.


Analysis


"I wish my teacher’s eyes wouldn’t go past me today. Wish he’d know it’s okay to hug me when I kick a goal."

This boy is ignored by his teacher, evidently due to his race. He wants to be recognized for his achievements in the same way the other students in his class are, but his teacher does not acknowledge him.


"Wish I myself wouldn’t hold back when answer comes. I’m no woodchopper now like all ancestors."

The persona confirms how he feels-voiceless and powerless. He holds back even when he knows the answer, showing that his confidence has been undermined due to constant prejudice. He knows that it doesn't make sense for him to not be bold, as, unlike his ancestors, he is free.


"I wish I could be educated to the best of tune up"

The boy wants to receive the best possible education. He uses a metaphor here to compare education to 'tune up,' as in how a car is well-serviced (or tuned) or how an instrument has been tuned to play the perfect notes.


"and earn good money and not sink to lick boots."

He doesn't want to become the stereotype of that era, of blacks only being meant for menial tasks. He is able to think critically, and he hopes not to be relegated to being a proverbial 'hewer of wood and drawer of water,' or spit shoe-shiner. He doesn't want to simply be subservient and servile in order to get by.


"I wish I could go on every crisscross way of the globe and no persons or powers or hotel keepers would make it a waste."

He wishes to travel the globe without the restraints of discrimination. He longs for unrestricted access to places where people and institutions do not discriminate against him because his skin is black.


"I wish life wouldn’t spend me out opposing."

In this personification, 'life' is said to spend the boy out, as in exhaust him completely. He doesn't want to spend his whole life on the defensive, constantly having to fight against discrimination and assault.


"Wish same way creation would have me stand it would have me stretch, and hold high, my voice Paul Robeson’s, my inside eye a sun."

He personifies creation here to be a sort of entity that controls his life. He wants 'creation,' in the same way it gave him the ability to withstand prejudice, it would give him the ability to grow internally, to have dignity- to 'stretch' beyond the limits society has defined for him. The persona dreams of having Paul Robeson’s voice as his own. This alludes to Paul Robeson, an African American icon known for his deep, distinctive voice. He was a Renaissance Man who epitomized black manhood as a star athlete singer, actor, lawyer, and human right activist. He wants to be like Robeson, and be as influential as him as well.

He wants his 'inside eye' to be a 'sun,' meaning that he wants his spirit and brilliance to be a light that all people can see.

"Nobody wants to say hello to nasty answers."

This line seems sort of out of place, but it shows the persona's realization that being exceptional is meaningless if people continue to be repulsed by him.


"I wish torch throwers of night would burn lights for decent times. Wish plotters in pyjamas would pray for themselves."

These lines allude to the Ku Klux Klan, a group of white supremacists who would lynch and torment black people. They did this under the guise of religion. The persona is highlighting their hypocrisy, as they hurt others, instead of praying for their own salvation at night.


"Wish people wouldn’t talk as if I dropped from Mars."

The persona wishes that his differences wouldn't be highlighted to seem as though he doesn't belong on this planet. He feels ostracized, as though he doesn't have the same permission to live in society- like he was born on Mars.


"I wish only boys were scared behind bravados, for I could suffer. I could suffer a big big lot. I wish nobody would want to earn the terrible burden I can suffer."

The persona wishes that only children were scared behind pretenses of valor- but he knows that even though adults display brave facades to the world, they are equally as scared. So, they are just as afraid and unable to oppose, and he cannot look to them for protection from the forces that plague him.

The word ‘suffer’ is repeated three times in this final stanza. Being a black boy is apparently synonymous with being afraid and suffering. He wishes that with adulthood things would change, but from what he has seen, he knows that is not true. He hopes that no one else will have to suffer through what he must suffer through because of the colour of their skin.


*'Wish' is repeated 12 times throughout the poem to reinforce the persona's mood of longing.


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