In the poem, the author portrays the political situation after the Civil War of 1865, the first war in the United States of America in which there was an official issue by the Union Army to call African Americans to war. In the first stanza, the author emphasizes the end of the war by stating,’ no more muskets, the bone drag weariness..’ . However, she mentions the lives lost in the war suggesting that the earth has turned red due to the soaking up of blood. By saying that the red was as though it was the color of the wine of sacrament, it is as though the lives lost in the war were a sacrifice for the greater good. In a way, the sacrifice was for the greater good which was the founding of a better republic, a new America. She expresses the achievement in the second stanza, as the veteran turns towards new fields. The new fields are symbolic of the new republic, the new America.
The veteran is trying to start a new. The reminders of the past which are symbolic of the jacket and the canteen which he used as a soldier he throws to the ground, forgotten at the corner of the painting. He cuts the wheat, a crop known for its bountifulness in America. In fact, it is grown in almost every state. The cutting of the wheat shows the bountiful nature of the crop and the veteran’s access to it shows the reward that he receives after the war is done. She goes on to describe the wheat, in its rows and rows. The use of the word swaths emphasizes how large an area the wheat has covered. It is boundless, never-ending in sight. In the last stanza, however, the crop switches from wheat to cotton. Cotton is symbolic in this situation in that it played and still does play a significant role in the economy. However, cotton is a crop synonymous with slavery and the fight for equality in the United States. African Americans worked in cotton fields. Later when they owned the fields, they had to fight still to keep their lands and sell their crop reasonably.
In a way, the author alludes towards the existence of resentment towards African Americans even after they had proved themselves in the war. Here the poem points out that the sacrifice face made by both races of soldiers might only have been to the right of the white people in the country. The African American even after proving their skill and courage in the war are still faced with a long way to go, a long way to fight for their freedom. The author points out that they are two veterans. The other veteran whose hands are the color of dark soil is the one that is in the field of cotton. The immensity of the work ahead of the African American veteran is seen when she says,’ where sky and cotton meet.’ The fields of cotton are immense and stretch out to inconceivable proportions.
The Theme of Inequality and Racism
The issue of racism is seen clearly in the poem if one considers the history behind the piece. The point of the Civil War that occurred between 1881 and 1885 was to accomplish the forming of a new America (Trudeau 18). The two fighting parties had different ideologies. Most importantly the Union Army did not agree with the use of slavery in the United States to achieve economic growth. However, they did not use African Americans in the war from the beginning. In a way, they still considered them cowardly and redundant. Though they were fighting towards the end of slavery, they still believed that African Americans could not assist in fighting for their freedom. But in the end both parties lost lives, so much blood was spilled blood that soaked the earth red. Death was everywhere.
Again, in the poem the differences between the veterans are drawn out. The veteran whose skin is white is in a field that is bountiful. The field that is full of wheat which is a crop that is considered to be a symbol of redemption and hope. After the war ends the white veteran as hope. His sacrifices were not for nothing. He can put the past behind him and look forward to the bountiful future. The white man by harvesting the wheat using the scythe has access to these opportunities. The white man has endless opportunities with no obstacle standing in his way.
On the other hand, the veteran whose hands are the color of dark soil is in the field of cotton. The author draws out the lack of opportunities for the African American. He is surrounded by the slavery that he fought so hard to end. Though nobody may be torturing him directly, he has so much to do so as to achieve his freedom. And his freedom will not be reached shortly. It is nowhere in sight. The only thing that the two veterans have in common is that they are on the field by themselves. The benefits of the white man are to him alone. The heavy burdens of fighting against slavery for the African American are to be fought by him alone. The white man has achieved his harvest. He has won the war and will no longer assist the fight for the abolition of slavery.
The issue of inequality is drawn out in that same way. Both parties fought in the same war. After the war, they wanted a new life. They wanted new beginnings. But for the man whose hands are the color of the dark soil, everything has stayed the same. The white man has been offered rewards while he is offered nothing. Even at war, the African American man was offered 3 dollars less than the white soldier even though they were fighting together. They were still segregated into groups with people of the same color. Even in the death of the 40,000 African Americans that dies only 10,000 died in battle. The facilities offered to the Native American soldiers exposed them to infection. They had no fighting chance.
In conclusion, the author draws out the ills of racism in society and the inequality that exists throughout the poem. Both parties are veterans of the same war but are not offered the same courtesies. The reason for the difference is because one is white and the other has dark skin.