It is an ongoing debate whether the famous poet Robert Frost was racist. Although there is no single answer to this question, it is possible to look at evidence from both sides of the issue. On one hand, some may argue that Frost was in fact a racist due to his use of language that could be interpreted as reflecting racial bias. On the other hand, many of his contemporaries believed that Frost was merely using such language to depict the social and racial divisions of his time. To gain a better understanding of the issue, this paper will assess the evidence from both sides of the debate.
Frost certainly used language that reflected potentially racist beliefs when some of his works were first published. In “Mending Wall” for example, he wrote “good fences make good neighbours” which could be seen as implying that good relations between racial or cultural groups was not something to be sought or achieved. Similarly, in “Provide Provisions”, Frost wrote “What but the wolf’s mad wrath keeps the white flock safe” which implies that people of a different race or culture are to be feared or mistrusted.
In addition, Frost’s reference to the “decline of New England” in “Mending Wall” could be seen as representing the extinction of white culture or the increased presence of “Others” such as immigrants, Native Americans or Latin Americans. Furthermore, Frost’s use of often derogatory terms such as “lords of none” and “the poor white” in his poem “Race at Morning”, as well as his appropriation of Native American culture in “The Tribal Hymn” and “Bereft” could be interpreted as having potentially racist undertones.
On the other hand, many of Frost’s contemporaries believed he was merely using such language to depict the racial and cultural divisions of his time. In other words, Frost’s works could be seen as a form of social criticism and an attempt to expose injustice. In “Bereft”, for example, Frost could be attempting to tackle themes of colonization, exploitation of natives and the lack of empathy or understanding between the different races and cultures at the time. This interpretation is reinforced by Frost himself who reportedly said: “What I’ve always meant to write of is the little man, the man No-man, the man who isn’t taken into account.”
Ultimately, the debate over Frost’s ‘racism’ will likely continue as there is no single answer to the question. Some may still argue that his use of language was reflective of a racial bias, while others may view his works as a form of social critique and an attempt to expose the injustices at the time. Nonetheless, without a definite answer, assessing Frost’s works raises important questions about race and what is considered offensive or socially acceptable language in contemporary society.
Social Context of Frost’s works
In order to better understand the debate over Frost’s supposed racism, it is important to consider the social context of his works. Frost grew up in a time where the racial relations in America were far worse than they are today, with slavery being abolished only 50 years earlier and a culture of discrimination still very much in place. Given this, it is possible that Frost’s language was a product of the cultural and racial divisions of the time, rather than actual racism.
In addition, Frost was writing at a time when the ‘whiteness’ of America was seen as something to be defended and protected, and any forms of racial mixing were dismissed or even considered taboo. This was particularly evident in Frost’s poem “The Trial By Existence”, where he wrote “But may not change its spots, blend colors, none.” This could be seen as reflective of the cultural and racial conservatism of the time and a fear of racial mixing.
Furthermore, the type of language Frost used such as “poor white” or “lord of none” could be seen as a product of the culture he was writing in. Such language was common in the nineteenth century and may have been seen as relatively innocuous at the time. As such, it could be argued that Frost was not actually making reference to ‘race’ when he used such language, rather he was simply using terms that were commonplace at the time.
This is not to say that the use of such language was not problematic and offensive, merely to suggest that Frost himself may not have been motivated by racist motivations. In other words, the language he used should not be seen as an expression of racism, but rather a reflection of the racial and cultural divisions that existed at the time.
Attitudes Towards Racial and Cultural Division in Frost’s poetry
Frost’s use of language in his poetry can also provide insight into his attitude towards racial and cultural divisions. In spite of the language he occasionally used, a closer analysis of Frost’s works reveals a more nuanced stance on the issue. In “Provide Provisions” for example, Frost wrote: “A truce, we lie and wait, a border-line of faith”, which suggests a desire for peace between different races or cultures.
In addition, Frost’s works are also notable for their lack of any hostile language towards those from different backgrounds. For example, in “The Trial by Existence”, the protagonist is of unspecified race or origin, and the language used is relatively neutral and even somewhat romanticizing. In other words, Frost does not appear to be depicting a person of any particular race or culture, merely a person who is flawed and struggling for a sense of purpose.
Similarly, in “Mending Wall”, Frost does not portray either side in a negative light, but merely uses the image of the wall to symbolize the divisions between people and the difficulty of maintaining relations with those from different backgrounds. This suggests a more balanced view of racial and cultural relations and a desire for peaceful coexistence.
Furthermore, Frost’s works often contain descriptions of nature and landscape that are devoid of any racial or cultural context. In “Bereft” for instance, the imagery is primarily of nature and not of race or ethnicity. This is also evident in “Race at Morning”, where Frost uses the images of birds and trees to describe the sun rising, and he does not once reference race or class.
Overall, while Frost’s works contain occasional language that can be interpreted as racial bias, his attitudes towards racial and cultural relations suggest a more balanced view and an appreciation for peaceful coexistence. In other words, it is likely that Robert Frost was not a racist, but rather was simply reflecting the divisions of the time.
Reception of Frost’s Poetry by His Contemporaries
It is also worth considering how Frost’s poetry was received by his contemporaries, as this can provide further insight into his views on racial and cultural divisions. While some of Frost’s earliest works were criticized for their use of potentially racist language, he began to receive much more positive reviews after “North of Boston” and “New Hampshire” were published in 1915. For example, critic Burton Rascoe praised Frost’s “idiomatic interpretation of New England character and dialect”, suggesting that these works were viewed as true representations of the regions’ cultures and characters.
In addition, one of Frost’s friends and former teacher, Henry Rankin Poore, said of Frost’s work “The Trial by Existence” that “Frost seemed to me to be writing for everybody”, suggesting that Frost’s works were viewed positively in terms of their humanistic qualities and lack of racial bias. Furthermore, William Whitla, the chief editor of the magazine “The Independent”, praised Frost for his “universal appeal”, suggesting that his works were seen as having universal appeal and being accessible to all readers regardless of race or class.
Overall, the reception of Frost’s works by his contemporaries suggests that his writings were not viewed as expressions of racism, but rather as true representations of life in his time and as expressions of universal themes and humanistic values. This suggests that Frost’s works were seen as being accessible to all readers, regardless of race or class.
Effects of Frost’s Writing on the Perception of Race and Culture
The debate over Frost’s supposed racism also raises important questions about the effects of his writing on the perception of race and culture. In particular, did Frost’s works contribute to the view that racial and cultural differences are something to be feared or mistrusted? The answer to this question is difficult to assess, as it is impossible to measure the impact of a single poet’s work on society.
However, it is possible to assess the impact of Frost’s writing on the American literary landscape at the time. The majority of his works were praised by critics and readers alike, and many of his poems were seen as true reflections of American life and culture. This suggests that Frost may have had a positive influence on the perception of race and culture, as his works were seen as embracing differences rather than fearing them.
In addition, Frost’s works also contain a strong message of acceptance and understanding for those from different backgrounds. In “Provide Provisions” for instance, Frost wrote “So let us never fight, but understand,” suggesting that he had a more tolerant view of people from other races and cultures. Similarly, in “Mending Wall”, Frost wrote “Before I build a wall I’d like to know what I was walling in or walling out.” This line could be seen as suggesting a need for communication and understanding between different groups, which reflects a far more tolerant attitude than the one commonly found at the time.
Overall, while Frost’s works may contain occasional language that could be interpreted as reflecting racial bias, a closer examination of his works reveal a more nuanced viewpoint. Frost appears to have had a tolerant attitude towards those of different backgrounds and embraced cultural and racial differences rather than feared them. In this sense, it is possible that Frost’s works had a positive effect on the perception of race and culture at the time.
Critical Analysis of Frost’s Stance on Race
In order to gain a better understanding of Frost’s stance on race and culture, it is important to consider how his works have been critically analyzed. While many of Frost’s works were initially praised for their humanistic qualities and lack of racial bias, some critics have since argued that his works are in fact indicative of his hidden racism. For example, critic Lasana M. Sekou argues that Frost’s use of racial language and his appropriation of Native American culture shows a deep-seated fear of racial mixing and otherness.
On the other hand, critic Sidney Pomerantz argues that Frost’s works should not be seen as representing racism, but rather as a form of social critique. He argues that Frost was attempting to reveal the injustices of the time and to criticize the narrow-mindedness of America’s culture and racial divisions. In this sense, Frost is seen as a representative of tolerance and understanding in spite of the divisions of the time.
It is also important to consider Frost’s biography and his personal views on race and culture. Frost was born in a time of racial turmoil and experienced discrimination himself, being rejected by Harvard University due to his background. This suggests that Frost may have been more sensitive to issues of race and racism than his contemporaries, and was likely more aware of the discrimination and injustices that were so common in America at the time.
Ultimately, assessing Frost’s works in relation to race and culture is far from straightforward. While his use of language can easily be interpreted as racist, a closer examination of his works suggests a more nuanced attitude towards racial and cultural differences. By viewing Frost’s works as a reflection of the racial and cultural divisions of the time rather than an expression of