In her piece “Reapers and Sowers,” Jamaica Kincaid uses the metaphor of the garden to highlight hypocritical treatment of African Americans by white America. Kincaid describes the way things created by African Americans are held in awe while those same people are viewed and treated as inferiors who are unrefined, even though they have made such amazing things. “[Middleton Place] is, on the one hand, a series of beautiful rooms in the garden sense… very beautiful, even slightly awesome; and then there is the awfulness… this was done by slaves…” Middleton Place is honored as a beautiful and amazing place, yet nobody acknowledges its history and the fact that it was built by slaves. Another example used by Kincaid is THomas Jefferson’s Garden book. “Each entry reads as if it were a single line removed from a poem: something should come before, and something should come after… [That is] found in the ‘Farm’ book, and it comes in the form of a list of names…” EVen while describing his garden and the progress made in it, Jefferson omits the people who made it possible. He leaves out the names of the slaves who created and grew his garden while he was enjoying the results of their work. Kincaid explores the relationship between reapers and sowers, especially with the phrase “the garden is not a place of rest and repose.” While the reaper may find a garden to be a peaceful refuge, the sower sees a garden as something they had to build, work they had to do for the reaper’s benefit, sometimes without choice. This idea captures the hypocritical treatment of African Americans. For a long time, African Americans have been the sower of many parts of our society, often without choice. However, as soon as white Americans reap the fruit of their labors they are disregarded. Even while we praise the product of their work we ignore or even villainize the people who created it. White America praises the work of African Americans while never giving them credit and simultaneously disregarding them for being “inferior.”


CC BY-SA 4.0 Kincaid Sowers and Reapers by Josiah is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


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Youth Voices is organized by teachers at local sites of the National Writing Project and in partnership with Educator Innovator.

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