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Posted June 5, 2008
A Wreath for Emmet Till tells the tail of a young African American fourteen year old boy, Emmet Till, and how he was brutally lynched by two men for whistling at a white woman. Despite Emmet¿s uncle standing against these oppressors and testifying against them, the men were still acquitted, but not before the trial drew the attention of the entire world. This book explains this story through the use of 15 interlinked sonnets, fourteen-line rhyming poem in iambic pentameter, in which each one begins with the last line of the one preceding it, creating a heroic crown of sonnets. The book is beautifully written and captures the pain and sorrow of this horrific act and in the process illustrates the extremes that racism can bring. He text may seem like it is lacking historical evidence or it may seem as though it is very general and more focused on beauty in writing than giving the cold hard facts as backup, however upon further examination the book is filled with historical references that are blended perfectly into the metaphors and other rhetorical devises of the book. This can be seen in the third sonnet of the poem in which the author says that Emmet Tills name still catches in the throats of people ¿like syllables waylaid in a stutterer¿s mouth.¿ This refers to the fact that Emmet had a problem with stuttering so his mom told him to whistle in order to get a word out. He was lynched for whistling at a white woman which is the focus for this book. In the ninth sonnet Nelson makes several references to historical events. The first of these references is the mentioning of matches which hints to the genocidal attacks on Rwanda¿s Tutsi people by their Hutu neighbors. ¿Plies of shoes¿ references the Nazi gas chambers. ¿Bulldozed mass graves¿ references the genocidal attacks of Serbs on Yugoslavia. Finally ¿the broken towers¿ alludes to the World Trade Center. Nelson makes all of these references in order to juxtapose them to the horrors of what happened to Emmet Till. The deeper meaning of these references can all be found in the back of the book adding to the historical accuracy and proving the book is meant to be interpreted in that way. While this was just one boy what happened to him managed to shock both whites and blacks leading to a stronger movement for equality, and his savage killing among other things lead to activists becoming more violent towards their oppressors who committed crimes like these. There is a slight interpretational bias due t the fact that the poems simply reflect the perspectives of people who are on the side of Emmet and not the men that killed him however in this case it is blatantly obvious that the killing was unjust and an act of racism which cancels out any bias that could have occurred. This text could have a strong affect on the reader¿s historical understanding because while it is comprised of poems and not written in a dry fact filled form like a text book is, the true message about racism is in this book. By describing this one event in the manner that it does it ends up summarizing racism in the U.S. as a tree that grew from toots that were nourished through blood. I would honestly give this book a 5. I would give it this high score because it manages to say so much with so little actual text like all good poetry should upon first glance it may seem shallow but with further interpretation and several readings the true brilliance of this book begins to shine. The only thing I would say negatively is that it is obviously comprised of poems so it is not meant for everyone.
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