Paper Example. `A Conversation With Myself' by Etheridge Knight

Published: 2023-10-31
Paper Example. `A Conversation With Myself' by Etheridge Knight
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Poem Stress Community
Pages: 6
Wordcount: 1444 words
13 min read

The poem `A Conversation with Myself’ by Etheridge Knight is a poem narrated by someone who is in a new area where they are not familiar and one in which they are uncomfortable with the way that they have to be careful of how they act lest they fall into danger. The narrator has to ensure that they are pretending and acting friendly, which they are not accustomed to doing so that the police do not persecute them. Therefore, the narrator is on unfamiliar grounds where they are forced to behave in a manner acceptable to that area, which they seem not to be comfortable with, although they have to for the sake of their safety (Knight, 2001).

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Additionally, the narrator seems to have held on to the one activity that made them feel at home, which was reading. The reading not only keeps them occupied but also as a way of protecting them from the danger of being arrested by the police on account of their color. The narrator is therefore homesick and wonders what it was that made them move from the comfort of Harlem where they could be themselves and talk dirty instead of being forced to be polite and meek for the sake of protecting themselves from the danger that may befall them if they do seem to be out of place in the area. Concerning the narration of the poem, this paper will explore the different themes covered throughout the poem.

The first theme in the poem is that of alienation. Alienation occurs when an individual is detached from a person or a place. In the poem, the narrator is alienated from the place where they are in, hence the reason for them to wonder what it is that may have made them get to the unfamiliar location in Missouri. Alienation is seen whereby the narrator is uncomfortable with the nature in the hills, despite their description depicting a beautiful place which would have been attractive to anybody who was not feeling alienated from the location where they were in.

Additionally, there is alienation in terms of the people in the Missouri hills being unfriendly to the people who got into their farms, with the description of them fondling their guns being the description that shows the unfriendliness that causes the alienation to occur between the people in the society from where the narrator makes this observation.

There is also the alienation of the people and the police, with the example of the narrator having to smile and show that they are reading a book showing that the relationship between the police and the citizens in the area was not cordial and was one represented by fear suspicion of each other, which therefore indicates that the police and the people in the society do not see eye to eye (Knight, 2001). The existence of alienation in an organization represents underlying situations such as unfriendliness and hostility, with the people in the same community being selfish and unwilling to share.

The second theme in the poem is that of conflict. Conflict occurs when there are disagreements between one idea and another, resulting in friction between the person or the people involved. First, the narrator has conflict within themselves, wondering why they had come to the hilly community of Missouri from their home in Harlem. The conflict comes from the difference in the two locations, with the familiarity of the narrator with Harlem being among the reasons for their wonder why they left their home. Harlem is more urban than the hilly countryside of Missouri that the narrator describes, hence showing that there was no need for them to move from the location where they were free to be themselves instead of being forced to act in a particular manner for the sake of ensuring their security and safety.

Additionally, there is a conflict between the people in the community of Missouri, hence explaining the farmers protecting their farms using guns (Knight, 2001). Guns represent the readiness to fight and engage in armed battle. Therefore the farmers in Missouri seem to have been in anticipation of some form of an enemy to attack them and their farms, hence bringing in the need for them to have guns in preparation for the possible attacks.

The theme of conflict is further seen in the way the narrator has to behave to be safe from the policeman who is patrolling the highway. The policeman on patrol seems to have been looking for the slightest form of provocation, hence forcing the narrator to smile at them in a manner to show innocence and friendliness, therefore protecting themselves from the possibility of being harmed by the police officer.

There is also the theme of fear, which is expressed throughout the poem. First, the narrator is afraid of the Missouri hillside community where they are currently; since they feel that the farmers in the area are not friendly towards them, and this is evident by the way they fondle their guns and look at the narrator.

Arms signify harm since just one shot can cause significant damage to the person to whom the weapon is aimed at, hence bringing in the need for the narrator to stay aware of the imminent danger that they are in whenever they are in Missouri. Living in fear brings discomfort to the people concerned, hence reducing the possibility of the said people enjoying life. The fear is also expressed in the inability of the narrator to act as naturally as they would in Harlem since they feel that they would be victimized or attacked if they acted in their natural behavior such as cursing out, which was freely done in Harlem.

The theme of fear is also expressed in the manner the narrator reacts to the presence of the police officer patrolling the location (Knight, 2001). The narrator is forced to smile at the officer in a manner that showed friendliness and innocence, as well as having to show that they are not up to trouble by pretending to read their book for the officer to leave them. This indicates that there is a possibility of previous instances of police brutality, which forced the narrator to act in the way they did to be free from the possibility of being hurt by the policeman.

Finally, the theme of love and appreciation for one’s home is seen in the poem. The narrator starts the poem by wondering what it is that may have made a move from their home to Missouri. While the physical conditions of the area seem to be ideal, from the description of lush vegetation and the existence of water bodies, compared to Harlem which is only full of buildings, the narrator’s heart seems not to be in the place, mainly since they were not familiar with the place.

The narrator appears to be homesick, especially with the alienation that they experience in the place and the fear that they are in, adding to the possibility of them feeling this way. There is also the possibility of the people in the location making him not feel welcomed in the location, with an example being the farmers having guns, which would be used at any time on the narrator since they mention that the farmers seemed suspicious of them. The law enforcement in the area also seems to be adding to the plight of the narrator, since they are forced to behave in a manner that they felt to be acceptable in the area, hence making the narrator behave in a way that may not be natural to them (Knight, 2001). The narrator appreciates their home, where they could curse out without being seen as awkward and unnatural, which shows that the narrator needed to go home where he was welcomed, accepted, and encouraged to behave in a manner that they wished to.


Conclusively, the poem is about someone who feels lost in the new location that they are in. The narrator feels alienated and insecure in the area due to the reception that they receive in the area. While the narrator seems to have been innocent, they are met with suspicion and hostility by the farmers in the area, as well as the police who seem to be convinced the narrator is up to no good. Because of the alienation, insecurity, and possibility of conflict erupting because of the narrator’s presence in the new location that they are in, the narrator misses their home where they could behave in the manner that they saw to be fit for them.


Knight, E. (2001). A Conversation with Myself. Callaloo, 24(3), 801-802.

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