“The warden said to me” by Etheridge Knight
The warden said to me the other day
(innocently, I think), "Say, etheridge,
why come the black boys don't run off
like the white boys do?"
I lowered my jaw and scratched my head
and said (innocently, I think), "Well, suh,
I ain't for sure, but I reckon it's cause
we ain't got no wheres to run to."
Etheridge Knight’s poem, “The warden said to me” reflects the prejudice of this time period. The speaker is a black prisoner, also the poet himself, who is asked by a warden, “Say, etheridge/ why come the black boys don’t run off/ like the white boys do?” (2-4). Because the warden is addressing the speaker on why the black boys don’t run off shows how it is clear that the speaker is black. Also, the fact that “etheridge” is not capitalized shows a distinction of authority; it shows how the warden speaks down to Etheridge and how they are not equals. Etheridge’s response also shows the discrimination Blacks faced at this time, and how he is indeed definitely a black man, “(innocently, I think), “Well, suh/ I ain’t for sure, but I reckon it’s cause/ we ain’t got no wheres to run to,” (6-8). Even the slight interior monologue presented in quotes of Etheridge’s unspoken thoughts show how he almost must address how he believes their conversation was innocent despite their differences. Another major indication of the hierarchy of these two people is how Etheridge calls the warden “suh”. This is a typical black person’s way of addressing a white person during times of prejudice between Blacks and Whites. Just the colloquial diction of their conversation also provides evidence of the situation. Neither seem very well educated, especially Etheridge, and yet Etheridge’s response has profound meaning. The final and most obvious proof of how there is prejudice towards Blacks is how they have no where to run to. If the white prisoners escape, they have at least a chance of leading a decent life. For a black person during this time however, they are trapped in a prison wherever they go because of the discrimination they face.
I like Knight’s poem because its straightforwardness and colloquial dialogue are easy for the reader to understand what is actually going on. The final line is heartbreaking in not only the truth of the situation, but also in its acceptance. This short poem does not need many words to explain the lasting injustice these people faced.