I’m working on a literature discussion question and need an explanation to help me understand better.
dialect and Dunbar
Dunbar was well-known during his time as a master of dialect poetry. In the module, we discuss Dunbar’s dialect as a possible form of “masking”. In other words, through his work he pretends to be someone who comforts or provides entertainment for his largely white reading audiences. African American dialect has often functioned in this way. It entertains. It provides humor. For this discussion, you have two choices:
1) Examine the use of dialect in the following poem. Does it simply entertain? Are there other issues that are being addressed? If so, what are they?
The Old Front Gate
Dey keep on a-gittin’ tall;
But de folks don’ seem to see
Dat dey’s growin’ up at all,
‘Twell dey fin’ out some fine day
Dat de gals has ‘menced to grow,
W’en dey notice as dey pass
Dat de front gate’s saggin’ low.
W’en de hinges creak an’ cry,
An’ de bahs go slantin’ down,
You kin reckon dat hit’s time
Fu’ to cas’ yo’ eye erroun’,
‘Cause daih ain’t no ‘sputin’ dis,
Hit’s de trues’ sign to show
Dat daih’s cou’tin goin’ on
W’en de ol’ front gate sags low.
Oh, you grumble an’ complain,
An’ you prop dat gate up right;
But you notice right nex’ day
Dat hit’s in de same ol’ plight.
So you fin’ dat hit’s a rule,
An’ daih ain’ no use to blow,
W’en de gals is growin’ up,
Dat de front gate will sag low.
Den you t’ink o’ yo’ young days,
W’en you cou’ted Sally Jane,
An’ you so’t o’ feel ashamed
Fu’ to grumble an’ complain,
‘Cause yo’ ricerlection says,
An’ you know hits wo’ds is so,
Dat huh pappy had a time
Wid his front gate saggin’ low.
So you jes’ looks on an’ smiles
At ’em leanin’ on de gate,
Tryin’ to t’ink whut he kin say
Fu’ to keep him daih so late,
But you lets dat gate erlone,
Fu’ yo’ ‘sperunce goes to show,
‘Twell de gals is ma’ied off,
It gwine keep on saggin’ low.
2) Address the issue of using dialect itself? How do you think it is used in contemporary pop culture? Does the use of dialect still signify “simple” or uneducated? What are your thoughts?
the black hero
Note the use of hyperbole in black tall tales, especially those that feature such larger-than-life figures (“Stackolee” and “John Henry”). Given the racial climate of the time, why do you think these ballads are attractive to a listening or reading audience? In other words, what forces seem to have inspired the emergence of this figure?