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The poem is about a certain clan known as Kinfolk. The Kinfolk clan was a community of people of color who served as slaves on white men's farms. There is an explanation of how these slaves lived a simple life without allowing the white man to come amongst them (Finey, 1931).
The author was a slave, and he describes how they must struggle not to cross the white men with their practices. One of the Kinfolk family members, specifically the poet's grandmother, was pregnant. Her water broke, necessitating emergency medical attention in order for the baby to be delivered.
Since the family had money at that time, they decided to do something better than what they had previously been doing. They decided to call the person who had a degree and claimed to be a professional in child delivery. He was a young man who was white and therefore was considered to have more experience in the field (Finey, 1931).
The man was quite convincing in trying to prove that he was better than midwives (Finey, 1931). He had papers supporting his education and skill, and therefore they decided to give him a try. People were sent to fetch him and tell him that it was urgent as the water had broken. However, he chose not to show up right away and said he would attend to the issue the following morning after breakfast (Stavans, 2011).
When he came, they felt that something was not right even though the man had papers. They, however, let him do the job and he did it. The baby's bones were broken in the process of pulling, and his cartilage smashed. The baby passed on, and if nothing had happened, the white lad left without even removing the afterbirth from the mother's womb. This afterbirth stayed in her body for nine months, and she also died.
The poet goes ahead to list a couple of ways which the clan would have used to determine whether the white man was a fake (Finey, 1931). However, they overlooked those things just because he was white and therefore they considered him superior to them. The poet says how the Good Book had softened the family such that they could not even take any action as they would be going against its teachings. All they could do was to pray. And this made them feel how wrong they were for judging a book by its cover.
I feel that the poet is trying to bring out how inhumanly the white people treated the black people during the times of slavery (Finey, 1931). Many themes show up as the narrator tells his story.
One theme is that of oppression whereby the white people oppress the black people without any action being taken. The oppression is demonstrated in the way the young white man treats the family. First, he does not show up immediately even after being told how the matter at hand was urgent. He chooses to go in the morning even after learning that the water had broken (Millim, 2011 p. 166). He also goes when drunk without caring about the health of the baby and that of the mother. Another sign of oppression is how the white man pulls the baby out of the mother. He breaks some of his bones and smashes his cartilage. The fact that they just let the young white man go without punishing him for killing the mother of the baby is ridiculous.
The poem serves as a way to show the black people that they are better off alone with their cultural values, however primitive they are, instead of integrating the white men who do not value them as humans (Finey, 1931). The poem is filled with regrets on how the people of color overlooked many things when they allowed the white man to deliver the baby just because they felt he was superior to them.
For instance, she complains how her aunt would check just to make sure they washed their hands before eating, while she did not bother to check whether the white man washed his before delivering the baby. The mood of the poem is very sympathetic because there is suffering from the black people caused by the white people. First, the people of color are depicted as slaves to the white people (Finey, 1931). They have to stick to their lane to ensure that they do not get into trouble.
The moment that they decide to accept help from the white man, he messes them up. The author shows a state of misunderstanding for the true intentions of the white man. They cannot understand whether he wishes them well or bad. He says he has a degree yet he cannot deliver a baby properly. I feel that the poet has made her point clear. She is just trying to say that a devil that you know is better than an angel one doesn't know. If the clan allowed their traditional midwives to deliver the baby, then maybe the mother would have survived, and the baby would not have had his bones broken.
Finey, N. "The Afterbirth, 1931." 1995. Poetry Foundation. 2017 .
Stavans, Ilan. The Norton anthology of latino literature. Ed. Edna Acosta-Belén. WW Norton & Company, 2011.
Millim, Anne-Marie. "The Light of Industry: Modernist Aesthetics in Luxembourgish Literature, 1900-1940." Art&fact30 (2011): 165-169.
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