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Poem Analysis - Sure You Can Ask Me a Personal Question

Por:   •  12/7/2019  •  Trabalho acadêmico  •  913 Palavras (4 Páginas)  •  132 Visualizações

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Universidade Federal de Uberlândia (UFU)

Instituto de Letras e Linguística (ILEEL)

Curso: Licenciatura em Letras com Habilitação em Inglês e Literaturas de Língua Inglesa

Disciplina: Literaturas de Expressão em Língua Inglesa

Poem Analysis

Sure You Can Ask Me A Personal Question

by Diane Burns

“Sure You Can Ask Me a Personal Question”, by Diane Burns, is a punch in the stomach of white people’s assumptions and stereotypes. Proposing a (not so fictional) conversation between an implicit interlocutor and a Native American person, the poem expresses complex emotions and unveils the actual discursive representations of Indigenous people hidden between the lines of the questions and comments made, specially, by Euro-American people.

Despite the simplicity of the language in use, the poem is full of meaning, bringing Burns’ sharply honest (and slightly sarcastic) point of view. As a daughter of a Chemehuevi father and an Anishinabe mother, the author takes the reader for a walk on her shoes and leave him/her wondering at the end of the journey: “do I ask this kind of question? Do I make this assumptions? Is it really necessary? Am I racist?”.

To do so, Sure You Can Ask Me A Personal Question starts with the verse “How do you do?”, a simple question used in the start of many conversations and usually followed by a quick chat about daily topics, like the weather. However, that’s not what happens here. Burns shows the reader that, when it comes to an American Indian, the subject is constantly turned to identity matters. She spends the most part of the two first stanzas answering what/who she is or isn’t, an inquisition that seems exhausting and draining.

When the implicit interlocutor seems to, finally, begin to understand the origins of this Native American person, he/she assumes a posture of surprise and doubt before the assertion that the author’s great grandmother was an Indian Princess, something that becomes clear through the use of the expression “oh?”, in the beginning of the stanza, and “huh?”, in the end of the sentences. The next step that the interlocutor takes is trying to guess this person’s background, asking if she is a Cherokee. This specific guess seems to follow a certain “logic”: since until this part of the poem, the author already told that she is not from India and also that she is not a member of three of the largest indian groups still standing in the U.S.A (Apache, Navajo and Sioux), the interlocutor seems to find logic that she is a Cherokee – one of the first, if not the first, major non-European ethnic group to become U.S. citizens and also the largest of the 567 federally recognized tribes in the country. However, this “logic” is nothing but an oversimplification of hundreds of indigenous cultures and the perpetuation of stereotypes found notedly in popular media.

Stanzas four, five and six are fundamental to show the increasing tension constructed in this dialogue. Using anaphora and irony, the poet reproduces Euro-American peoples’ attempts of explaining why they don’t consider themselves prejudiced. Burns brings to the center of the discussion the fact that people legitimize speeches like “I have an indian friend/lover” as facts that exempt them from being prejudiced, when this statements are nothing but ways of


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