White Lies by Natasha Trethewey

Published: 2021-06-29 07:03:29
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Category: English

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In the poem “White Lies” by Natasha Trethewey, a little girl has trouble accepting her racial identity. Her father is white, and her mother is black, but the underlying problem is presented through society's racist views on black people in the south during this time. The girl’s desire to fit in with the few white people is stemmed from her perception of social class in relation to one's race. The author uses imagery in the stanzas that state “The lies I could tell, when I was growing up, light-bright, near-white, high-yellow, red-boned, in a black place” (4) to show the lightness of her skin. The poem’s name is “White Lies", this is ironic because the girl is not only telling harmless or “white lies” but she is also lying about being fully white.
This poem may be describing the authors struggles as a young girl in accepting who she is. To fully grasp the meaning of the poem, it is important to understand Trethewey’s upbringing. Trethewey was born in Mississippi in 1966 to a black mother and a white father. At the time, interracial marriage was illegal in Mississippi and was viewed with a great deal of shame by the “race-sensitive” society. Based off these facts, a reasonable inference can be made that the speaker in the poem is indeed Trethewey. The taboo of an interracial marriage at the time only reinforced the unfortunate stigma that Tretheway felt as a half-black half-white girl living in the South.
The poet uses a southern dialect which allows the reader to learn even more about the location and time of when the poem was intended to take place. The typical southern slang used in the poem further leads us to conclude her insecurities may have been heightened due to her location in the south and their increased hate towards black people. The poem is in an informal dictation allowing us to see this innocence in the girl as she is young and knows no better. Both of these elements play a huge role in the structure and our understanding of the poem as they give us insight as to why the girl feels the need to tell lies in order to fit in. “White Lies” uses color imagery to paint a picture of racism and moral dilemmas in the South in the later part of the twentieth century. Rhythm and meter do not play big roles in this poem, it is more focused on experiences in the poet’s life along with generalizations about a time and setting in history.
This poem has a mixture of themes that are used to portray the point of the girl's troubles in accepting her racial identity. The speaker in this story uses small lies to change how people view her throughout the story. In the second stanza, she speaks about all the little lies she could get away with about where she lived. She lived in a “shanty-fied shotgun section/along the tracts” (10), but what she tells people is she lived in an upper-class community instead of her less fortunate neighborhood. She pretends to wear expensive clothing when in reality, they are all homemade. Therefore, when people assume she is white the speaker chooses to go along with it. These themes are used to show the girls views on color and social status, she feels that if she tells people the truth about who she is and where she comes from then they will automatically judge her

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