The selection I chose was The Fourth of July by Audre Lorde. In this essay the main themes are obviously racism (man vs. society) and coming of age. Throughout the text the tone, symbolism, and choice of words slowly but continuously alter according to the girl’s experiences.
In the beginning the tone is very peppy and comfortable. The family is about to go on a vacation. Soon the tone takes a change for the worst. The delightful family vacation becomes an ill one and is overall disappointing.
Lorde uses vivid and alluring words as well as some alliteration to describe items as the foods the mother prepares for the train ride: “…brown bread and butter and green pepper and carrot sticks…little violently yellow cakes…” (Lorde 567). She also uses food words that are more gustatory: “…sweet pickles…dill pickles…peaches…rosewater and glycerin…” (Lorde 568).
There is a stress on the color white throughout the entire essay. This makes sense of course because the young girl is a member of an African-American family traveling from New York to Washington, D.C. in the year 1947. This wasn’t such a jovial time for black people in the United States, which was deliberately meant to contradict the date of which this family trip occurs—Independence Day. This holiday is well renowned as a day of the country’s remembrance of freedom and liberty. The girl, having just graduated from the eighth grade becomes fully aware that at this point in time the previous statement is only a half-truth. “I viewed Julys through an agonizing corolla of dazzling whiteness, and I always hated the Fourth of July, even before I came to realize the travesty such a celebration was for the black people in this country.” (Lorde 569). The day she finally acknowledges this, she considers the day she officially “stopped being a child” (Lorde 567).
The silence of this whole essay is apparent on multiple occasions. Her parents refuse to be riotous and infuriated (though it can be inferred they feel this way on the inside) and quietly take the absurd injustices as they come: “As usual, whatever my mother did not like and could not change, she ignored. Perhaps it would go away, deprived of her attention.” (Lorde 568).
Ultimately, when the family is refused dine-in service at a Washington ice cream and soda parlor, the youth grows up and realizes what kind of ridiculously racist society in which she is living. The color white has never been as unfair and hideously blinding as it now appears. Lorde does a superb job conveying a distinct tone, symbolism, and word choices. The themes of both racism and coming of age are clearly delivered.