Etheridge Knight's 'The Idea Of Ancestry'

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Literature Behind Bars In the United States of America, an average of 3 percent (1 in 37) of adults have at one point in time called prison their home, and this number is expected to increase to 3.4 percent in the next few years (3073).Yet despite the rapid rate of incarcerated prisoners, the reality of the living conditions is often overlooked inside our prison systems. Allowing literature to be written is a unique way for individuals to see prisoner’s thoughts on different subjects, and can be used to document experiences. These experiences are an opportunity for free-world citizens to see the world through a different perspective. After reading three examples of writings under the term “prison literature”, I am curious to see how our nation…show more content…
In The Heath Anthology of American Literature, it tells about the difficult life of Knight: Born into a large family with a limited amount of money, Knight found himself limited by his lack of education. At a young age, he began experimenting with drugs, which ultimately landed him a sentence term of ten to twenty-five years in Indiana State Prison (3074). Prisons purpose is to strip people of civil and human rights. With that, the ability to communicate freely, to have a voice, is taken away. Knight finds his voice through writing “The Idea of Ancestry”, which is a poem about the concept of family descents and the internal connection of human beings. It describes what it means to belong to a family, and what it is like to be secluded from them. Human beings are social beings; the confinement which takes place in a prison setting promotes “soul-destroying loneliness,” as stated in an article in The New Yorker (Gawande). To simply exist, humans need social interaction. Without this, what generates is frustration and despair, which can be seen in this poem. The reader can imagine the remembered connections with his family as he is staring at forty-seven pictures of his family hung on the prison wall. The flowing lives hung on the “gray stone wall” creates an image of loneliness. It is all too obvious the separation from him and his ancestry, as he states: “they are farmers, I am a thief, I am me, and they are thee” (3076). The soothing and sweet flowing rhythm seems to reflect the poet’s memories about his past relationships with his relatives. But as he continues to reminisce, regret continues to be a given in Knights

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