Symbolism In The Century Quilt By Marilyn Nelson Waniek

Decent Essays

Throughout American history, quilting has been a major part of African- American culture. Starting at the time of slavery to relay information about safe routes in the Underground
Railroad, this tradition has continued and has begun to take on many different levels of significance to this community. Used as a tool to escape racial persecution throughout history physically and mentally, quilting has acted as an art that transcends racial barriers and to bring the races together in a positive way. In “The Century Quilt”, poet Marilyn Nelson Waniek develops complex meanings of the quilt using the literary devices of color symbolism, time shifts, and a warm atmosphere to effectively demonstrate the theme of love in families transcending the idea of race.
Color drives a significant amount of the meaning in this poem, as the idea is used in describing the characters and objects throughout the poem and in creating the atmosphere of the work. This was especially prevalent in the description of the quilt in lines 15 through 17 as having “Van Dyke brown squares”, “ white squares”, and “one square the yellow-brown of
Mama’s cheeks”. By having these different skin tones present, Waniek is representing the races represented in her family, which includes African- American and European roots. Including the sweetgum lead in each of the squares, this further emphasizes that while the speaker’s great-great-great grandfather was white, the speaker’s father is black, and she herself is

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