A Place You Don’t Know

Can you survive a conversation about race and politics with a person of an opposing race? Many would answer this question with a yes why not? But in reality, many would explode in emotions and scream. Many of this conversations are indeed difficult due to not being able to articulate one’s ideas thoroughly and effectively, and yes containing one’s anger and frustration regarding this failure is even harder. This topic is also introduced in the second poem of Claudia Rankine’s collection of poems, Citizen: An American Lyric(2014). Rankine adequately develops the idea of racial conversations and the negative outcome of them in modern day societal terms.

Rankine develops the idea of racial uncomfortable conversations by the use of authorial intrusion, a figurative language tool that is unusually spoken of but well reaches the readers connection to the text. This literary device is the usage of the second person point of view instead of the more common first and third person by the author. Rankine uses this tool specially in the opening of her second poem as well as throughout the rest of the poem, she sets the stage with this tool and forms the platform to the rest of her poem in which the ideas flow cohesively and understandably in the readers point of view. This can be shown in the quote,

 “A woman you do not know wants to join you for lunch. You are visiting her campus. In the café you both order Caesar salad. This overlap is not the beginning of anything because she immediately points out that she, her father, her grandfather, and you, all attended the same college…” (Rankine 13)

 The usage of authorial intrusion proves to be effective in captivating the essence of the scene and portraying it in a way that readers can clearly and easily create an image in their minds. When an author uses second person, it becomes easier for the reader to imagine themselves in the scene, when readers can imagine themselves in the scene, they can create a better connection with the author. This better connection then leads to better understanding of the meaning behind the poem. In regard to Rankine poem the readers are able to set the uncomfortable setting in their minds for the conversation that occurs within the first line “A women you do not know wants to join you for lunch”. The idea of the not knowing who one is having lunch with creates an unsettling feeling that is deeply generated throughout the poem. In addition, given that a close relationship is depend by the second person perspective between the author and the reader the author doesn’t waste much time explaining in between the line ideas. Rankine lists actions that in the second person context pertain to the reader, the reader understands what the author means because the reader feels like a part of the story. For instance, when the author says “You are not sure if you are meant to apologize” the reader knows a sense of anger is supposed to be felt.

Overall this literary device truly expands the significance of taking part in uncomfortable conversations regarding race because it shows that discriminationagainst an applicant’s race and his ability to get into a school or not based on his persona and academics is not ok. This poem is honest and informative about how to react to a racist comment in a conversation, because yes walking away is always better then yelling at “a woman you do not know”.


Works Cited:

Rankine, Claudia. Citizen. Graywolf Press, 2014. (Book)

3 thoughts on “A Place You Don’t Know

  1. Thank you so much for your blog on the poetic device of authorial intrusion. Although I have never been formally educated on this figurative language tool, I find all the points you made about its ability to place the audience in a more forgiving & engaged perspective very accurate. While reading Rankine, I absolutely was following the text along my imagine. I think the removed identity of the actors within her poem helps the audience fall into each perspective much easier than with clearly delineated race, gender, sexuality acknowledged. With out prior knowledge of the various actors the audience isn’t pushed to subconsciously identify with the actor most similar off immediate characteristics. Instead, the audience is given the opportunity to maybe be surprised, or reconsider their position within the poem. I’m wondering though, how would this literary technique play out in a face-to-face interaction?

  2. This is a really unique perspective on the usage of the second person that I haven’t thought too much about until now. Your argument that this device is utilized as a method of placing the reader more vividly into the situation makes me consider other possible meanings behind pronouns in this poem. For example, the opening phrase, “A woman you do not know” makes me question how figurative this statement is. Is the woman actually someone “you” knew beforehand? Your post makes me think that “you” knew of the person, but is not familiar with the kind of person the other woman is. She cannot personally relate to the prestigious woman’s point of view because it is painted with a subtle hue of racism. The same idea repeats later with the usage of “they,” as in the “they” who instituted affirmative action. I’m now more aware of the possible connotations of this particular pronoun as well, especially in the context of the woman with the son suggesting people of color belong to a vague group of otherness that supposedly impacted which school her son attends.

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