Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Verbal Effects and Margaret Walker's "Molly Means"

By Clarissa Richee

In her poem, “Molly Means,” Margaret Walker celebrates African American myth and folklore, combining lyrical traditions with narrative ones. Following a format, similar to that of a song, the poem consists of seven individual verses and one, slightly altered refrain. This gives the poem particular verbal effect when read aloud, hovering somewhere halfway in between a story and a song.

The “verses” are written in a constant rhyme scheme and the chorus of the poem relies heavily on assonance and repetition. “Old Molly, Molly, Molly Means / Cold is the ghost of Molly Means…O Molly Molly, Molly Means / Where is the host of Molly Means?” The long “o” sound is particularly important here; as readers are greeted with the same low sounds again and again, it helps to set the mood for the poem, to create the sense of something sinister, impending and immovable.

On the surface, the narrative aspects of the poem follow a pattern typical to that of a fairy tale. Molly, the main character, is a witch who performs evil spells on innocent people and in the end suffers for it. Likewise, Walker makes a point of describing the witch in familiar terms, those that equate darkness with evil.

Molly is described as “dark, “black as pitch,” with “coal black eyes” as using “black-hand arts.” In addition, the poem is set most often at night where she performs her evil dead. It is interesting that an African American poet would choose such imagery to outline an evil character. However, combined with the lyrical repetition of the chorus, this method works to assert and exacerbate this idea of dark magic, and while Molly can definitely be identified as menacing, there is also an aura of undeniable power in her character.

Fear of her tends to dominate those around her so much that it almost invokes a type of reverence. Even after she is supposedly defeated, she is never vanquished; her ghost lingers to haunt and “bring terror to the young and old.”

Related: Margaret Walker Week

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