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The Cane Fields

Symbol Analysis

The image of the cane fields works pretty flawlessly with the politics of enslavement and confinement that are so prevalent throughout the poem. The cane fields, simply put, are representative of ownership and slavery. After all, it's where the Haitians were forcibly put to work, and it is where many of them in the poem die. Sugarcane is an extremely labor-intensive crop to grow, and requires many, many hands to turn a profit that will usually benefit only a very small group of people. (Times, they are a-changin' but not really getting any better: for more information, check out this NY Times article.) As a crop, sugarcane has an incredibly bloodstained history, and all those associations come with it when Dove invokes it as both a historical fact and as a symbol for the larger issue of slavery and genocide.

  • Lines 3-4: We learn that the Haitians are working in a swampy sugarcane field, and that they're cutting it down, presumably with huge blades (sugarcane is a big plant). It's described as "haunting" the Haitians, so we get our first taste of how the Haitians feel about their work.
  • Lines 15-16: This is a reiteration of the refrain, except now the Haitian workers (the "we") are dreaming – another version of being haunted, really. They can't get away from their work, or their enslavement. The cane is also being lashed and streaming (bleeding?).
  • Lines 49-51: Now we see the fields from Trujillo's perspective, except that Dove uses the refrain again, so the words themselves aren't actually any different – there is still lashing and streaming, though now the person thinking of the cane fields is the one doing the lashing.

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