Gwendolyn Bennett and Jean Toomer approach the use of violence in their writing from two opposite angles. In Bennett’s poem “Hatred”, this violence is explicitly stated against white people and the institution of racism. Toomer, on the other hand, employs this violence in a domestic context. Both poems make use of images of weapons and elements of nature. These images reconcile two completely different works of literature by establishing them firmly within the culture of the American South.
In the first section of “Hatred”, Bennett writes, “I shall hate you/Like a dart of singing steel/Shot through still air/At eventide” (Bennett 223). These lines evoke the image and sound of a gunshot. The reader has no context for the identity of the object of Bennett’s hatred; however, it is a hatred that is so strong that she is tempted to kill. This image also departs from other descriptions of women in literature, if the reader assumes that the voice in this poem is either that of Bennett or of another woman. The speaker in this poem has an uncommon strength and boldness; she is unafraid to commit an act of violence for which she will receive severe repercussions, such as lynching. However, she cannot act out her desires, so she resolves to hate. She wants to hate the white people so that her hatred hurts them. She cannot kill them; therefore she must fulfill her violent desires in the most satisfactory way possible.
Bennett continues: “Or solemnly/As pines are sober/When they stand etched/Against the sky” (Bennett 223). These lines give the reader an opposite sense of the speaker’s emotion. While in the first four lines, the speaker was militant and wanted so desperately to kill, in these lines, the reader sees a calmer, more refined, hatred that is just as poignant. This is a dignified hatred, which is accompanied by an almost masculine, gentlemanly image. The pine trees are reminiscent of a dark man standing tall against the sky, dignified and solemn.
The first eight lines of “Hatred” also evoke two opposite ways to deal with the hatred and indignity suffered by black people during the era of the Harlem Renaissance and before. They foreshadow the two Civil Rights leaders: one, the militant, who advocated separation and self-defense, the other, for whom violence was never the first option. Although Bennett did not foresee this in her writing, one can see that she did acknowledge the choice that black people had to make on a daily basis when faced with disgraceful social encounters and unfair treatment: “Should I risk my life and fight them back, or take it silently while still hating the institution that has established my disgraceful position in Southern society?”
Toomer’s “Carma” begins with the description of a black woman named Carma. The first image the reader is confronted with is that of Carma’s strength. She is not described as being violent, but, being “strong as any man,” she does have the potential to fight without backing down...