The Century Quilt Literary Devices

Introduction to “The Century Quilt”

The poem is a pathetic and expressive piece of work, written by Marilyn Nelson Waniek. It explores the themes of legacy, memory and identity by employing the symbol of a quilt.

The poem honors the family history of the speaker, seized in the quilt’s layers and patterns. Here, the quilt represents the connected lives and experiences of her ancestors. The author by using the evocative imagery and beautifully crafted language invites the readers to consider the importance of cultural heritage and personal history.

Short Summary of “The Century Quilt”

In the beginning of the poem, the speaker recalls about a quilt that is associated to her grandmother.

The complicated patterns and colors of the quilt represents the intricate family history of the speaker.

The speaker reveals how the quilt depicts the past as well as the hopes and dreams for the future. The quilt becomes a substantial link to the heritage of the speaker.

It contains the stories and struggles of her forefathers. The use of the symbol of quilt develops a sense of belonging and identity. It draws the strength from the connections to her family’s history.

Themes in “The Century Quilt”

i- Heritage and Memory

The most prominent theme in the poem is the role of the past and memory. The quilt is used for protecting the stories or events regarding the ancestral years of the speaker. It is a remnant and an event which has defined the speaker in a certain way and given a particular history. The poem lay stresses that the knowledge of heritage helps people to understand themselves and to feel a sense of belonging.

iI- Identity and Belonging

Another theme of the poem is the identity and belonging. The thoughts of the speaker about the quilt reflects her wish to connect with the origins and for an identity. The writer considers the quilt as the bridge between her past and present, which provides her a sense of continuity and belonging.

III- Continuity and Change

The nature of continuity and change is also another theme depicted through the unveiling of the poem. Thus, in many ways, the quilt means continuity with tradition and at the same time, constant transformation. The speaker recognizes her provenance stays with her as she copes with her current environment, but there is anticipation for how the African American culture will further develop.

Literary Devices in “The Century Quilt”

1- Symbolism

“My sister and I were in love
with Meema’s Indian blanket.
We fell asleep under army green
issued to Daddy by Supply.”

Here, the vastness, color and variety of the ‘’Indian blanket’’ represents the multifaceted and colorful history of the speaker ‘s family.

The blanket symbolizes the connection of the speak and her sister to their past. It also arises the memories of their grandmother (Meema) and warm-heartedness and belongings of the family tradition.

The other type of blanket i.e. army green is different from simple and warm-looking. It represents the innocence of the family members’ childhood memories. It perhaps reflects the military service of their father.

2- Imagery

“Now I’ve found a quilt
I’d like to die under;
six Van Dyke brown squares,
two white ones,
and one square the yellowbrown
of Mama’s cheeks.”

Here, the creative ability is manifest, which enables the readers to imagine the beauty of the quilt by painting a picture with fine details of its pattern.

The details provided indicate the colors used in the quilt including ; ‘ Six Van Dyke brown squares, two white ones and one the yellow brown of Mama’s cheeks.’

The use of color imagery not only helps the readers to ‘see’ the quilt, but it raises subtler, more tender and culturally colored perceptions.

The Van Dyke brown squares may have made people associate it with a warm, traditional color like soil, for a historic connotation.

The ‘two white ones’ in this context are used to balance out the overall image and the ‘yellowbrown of Mama’s cheeks.

It evokes a sense of familiarity, intimacy, which makes it easier for the readers to relate the quilts as those belonging to the speaker’s family.

By using the imagery, the writer increases the sensual experience of the poem.

It makes the quilt more than conceptual or symbolic by amplifying the reader’s senses and transforming the quilt into a truly physical entity that represents the self and ancestry of the speaker.

3- Metaphor

“Under this quilt
I’d dream of myself,
of my childhood
of miracles and a perfect life.”

There is a symbolic representation of the quilt, which represents the life and aspirations of the speaker.

The phrase “Under this quilt/ I’d dream of myself” means that the external objects are embracing the identity and dreams of the speaker.

The quilt is not only a physical object but also a memory and dream telling the audiences about the life of the artist.

The phrase “miracles and a perfect life” defines the childhood of the speaker. Here, the quilt as a covering of the bed provides stability, security and optimism.

It shows their optimism or desire for something good to happen in a particular circumstance, situation or in general.

In this way, the writer emphasizes that, the quilt as a person and as a symbol of love and legacy giving the basis for the speaker’s dreams and family genealogy.

4- Allusion

“Each square holds a sweet gum leaf,
for afternoons of listening
to red cardinal birds
and from Mama’s favorite season.”

The use of phrase ‘sweet gum leaf’ and talking about how the family has heard the ‘red cardinal birds’ implies that the family connects with nature, which defines their African American culture.

In African American culture, quilting played its role in telling stories and histories.

Other traditions also appear in the story: the sweet gum leaf not only has details about their dresses and the clothes they used but also parts of their surrounding environment was included in the quilts.

Moreover, the notion of quilting also hints to remember the cultural history of the African Americans.

The quilts, as such, had functions related to immediate domestic use, but they also represented art and history.

In this way, the writer links the poem to a particular tradition and provides the context in which the subject matter is to be viewed as important: first if identified, in terms of heritage, both in respect to identity and to the community.

5- Personification

“When I have children,
I’ll make them quilts from these shirts
their softness will keep me warm.”

The quilt has been personified with the human traits. It is the source of providing comfort and warmth.

The phrase “their softness will keep me warm” contains a protective characteristic to the quilt.

Furthermore, the use of phrase “keep me warm” infuses the potential of providing the comfort and care. It is traditionally linked with the humans and pets.

This endowment amplifies the poem’s affective function and points to the idea that the quilt, constructed from the cherished shirt will itself become love and tenderness.

It highlights the idea that the quilt is not just a passive object but an active participant in the life of the speaker, which provides warmth and a feeling of the security.

The use of personification makes the quilt a symbol of family love and continuity.

6- Tone and Mood

“I think of all the stages
I have known, from toddler
struggling to climb up onto the bed
to this moment, an adult
looking down at the quilt
that holds so many memories.”

The tone of the stanza is meditative and contemplative. The speaker reflects the different stages of her life i.e. from childhood to adulthood.

The phrases, “I think of all the stages” and “this moment, an adult” unfolds a thoughtful and reflective tone of the poem.

The speaker pauses here to consider the passage of time and the importance of the quilt in her life.

On the other hand, the mood of the stanza is evocative and piteous.

The use of imagery like “toddler struggling to climb up onto the bed” reflects a sense of innocence and the challenges of her early childhood.

The bitterness of contrasting memories builds up throughout the story. The last two lines, the second to the last line particularly, ‘that holds so many memories’ provides a concrete linkage to the past experiences. It evokes an aspect of remorse and a desire to have endured through easier moments.

7- Repetition

“In the evening I’d drift off to sleep
surrounded by the red, yellow, and orange
of the quilt, and in my dreams,
I’d see the red, yellow, and orange
of the quilt, alive with the stories
of my ancestors.”

The repetition of the colors i.e. “red, yellow and orange” creates emphasize regarding their importance and the incisiveness of the quilt in the memory of the speaker.

The use of the colors evokes their importance in the life of the speaker. It also reflects that these colors are not just part of the quilt but also deeply inserts in her consciousness.

The reiteration of the colors also creates a rhythmic and lyrical quality in the poem. This technique strengthens the connection between the physical quilt and the spiritual and cultural legacy.

The colors are repeated themes that link the present experience of the speaker with her past. It makes the them a primary symbol in the poem.

8- Contrast

“I remembered how I’d planned to inherit
that blanket, and how we used to wrap ourselves
at play in its folds and be chieftains and princesses.
Now, at sixty, I see quilts as history:
the Lincoln green of the border,
the crimson squares, the rainbow bands of different eras,
and each color holds a story.”

The speaker makes contrast to indicate the differences between the childhood and the adulthood of the speaker.

The writer remembers how in childhood, she along with her sister used the blanket to play mythical games.

The imaginative use of the blanket contrasts with the view of the speaker at sixty years of the age, where she finds quilt as “history” filled with the stories and memories of different times.

This contrasting stanza stresses how the relationship of the speaker with the quilt has developed and that the quilt has more layers of significance as the poem progresses on.

The depicted colors — “the Lincoln green of the border, the crimson squares, the rainbow bands of different periods” serve to underline historical and emotional potential of the quilt, as if each line symbolize some phase in the life and each piece of cloth encodes a story.

9- Enjambment

“She’d have good news for me
each time I visited her, that’s why
I prayed she’d live forever
and I see now, how it is.”

Enjambment is the continuation of a line from one stanza to the next without a pause or punctuation mark, it unravels the concept of connecting and flowing from one line to the next line.

In the lines above, the enjambment is evident. The author divides the poem’s lines, thus making the poem read as if it is a spoken word arranged in the manner in which one might think about the verses.

Thus, the use of the enjambment enables the ideas of the stanzas to run over from one line to the other, thereby revealing the continuous cogitation and communion of the speaker with her memories.

The enjambment also contributes to the poem’s flow, as the reader is not prepared by a pause at the end of the first line before moving on to the second.

This technique help to portray the longing of the speaker and the continuity of the memory. The crossing of lines indicates the flow of memories.

It also reflects the ongoing relationship between the speaker and her grandmother.

The Century Quilt Literary Devices
Literary Devices Used in The Century Quilt

Nutshell is that, the poem uses a variety of literary devices to explore the themes of legacy, memory and identity. The use of symbolism of the quilt creates a personal and universal narrative. The tone of the poem invites the readers to consider the importance of their own legacy and the ways in which the past shapes the present and the future.

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