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The poem is told in the present tense and in first person, and yet its subject and time period could be seen either as slave-owning America or early 20th-century ("Jim Crow era") America. The speaker in this poem could be thought of as a person from either of these times, and serves as a kind of "representative" of all black Americans during that historical era. It's almost as if a whole community is speaking this poem, instead of just one individual.

If you wanted to picture the speaker as a single individual, though, we could envision him as a black domestic servant – but one who has ambitions, plans, and dreams for the future. He realizes where he is now, but that doesn't stop him from being hopeful about where he – and his entire race – might be in the future. So our speaker's a dreamer, persevering in the face of adversity, convinced of his beauty and his (eventual) equality.

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