Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Power of Words

One of the major underlying themes of Claudia Rankine's Citizen: An American Lyric is the inherent power that words have, and the effect that the subtleties of day-to-day interaction can wear down at one, specifically in the case of black Americans with regard to micro- and macroaggressions. In many of the poems featured in her anthology, Rankine demonstrates these effects by detailing small daily occurrences as well as the negative effects they have on the unnamed protagonist that ties them all together. This theme is demonstrated in the following excerpt:
The wrong words enter your day like a bad egg in your mouth and puke runs down your blouse, a dampness drawing your stomach in toward your rib cage. When you look around only you remain. Your own disgust at what you smell, what you feel, doesn’t bring you to your feet, not right away, because gathering energy has become its own task, needing its own argument. You are reminded of a conversation you had recently, comparing the merits of sentences constructed implicitly with “yes, and” rather than “yes, but.” You and your friend decided that “yes, and” attested to a life with no turnoff, no alternative routes: you pull yourself to standing, soon enough the blouse is rinsed, it’s another week, the blouse is beneath your sweater, against your skin, and you smell good.
First, we're given a vivid sensory image of how it feels to experience these frequent bouts of disrespect and/or ignorance towards you. The nauseous words used recreate the feeling in the reader: one of unease and discomfort in one's current state, followed by disgust at oneself and a feeling of isolation. Because of the frequency of the microaggressions described, rebounding from them has become an effortful process that is hard to recover from. In this case, words have the power to bring one down emotionally and psychologically.
Subsequently, words are used to reelevate oneself to a state of comfort and confidence in oneself. Even small changes in word usage, like from "yes, but" to "yes, and" are representative of something deeply significant: decisiveness and commitment to one's ideas, which, in turn, leads to self-esteem. From simply remembering this, the subject of the excerpt pulls herself up again and returns back to her confident self.
What do you think? To what extent does the power of words affect us in day-to-day life? What other instances does Rankine write about where this theme appears?

No comments:

Post a Comment