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Part A Meaning and Themes

In the poem entitled The Century Quilt by Marilyn Nelson


Waniek, the author addresses the themes of nostalgia, love, and
optimism to highlight the importance of the quilt.
Throughout the poem, the author narrates her story in a
reminiscent tone where she reflects on her memories with her
grandmothers quilt. The author mentions her fond memories of the
quilt when she narrates, Id remember how I planned to inherit / that
blanket, how we used to wrap ourselves / at play in its folds and be
chieftains / and princesses. (9-12) Therefore, the author evidently
shows the significance of the quilt as it is illustrated as one of her
fondest memories with the intention to even inherit the quilt as a
child. Overall, this nostalgic sentiment, primarily in the first stanza, is
what initially sparks her narration of the quilt and ultimately, the
poem itself.
There is also a sense of comfort associated with her reminiscent
tone. With this, the author associates her relationship with her quilt
and family with love. In the third stanza, the comfort of her quilt
becomes a precursor to her imagery of family love; this is narrated as,
I think Id have good dreams / for a hundred years under this quilt,
as Meema must have, under her blanketwhen their father came
home from his store / they cranked up the pianola and all of her
beautiful sisters / giggled and danced. (20-30) The author
communicates an emotional appeal that goes beyond the comfort of
her quilt, as a connection is made with her envisioned family love.
This demonstrates a sincere love for her quilt as it extends
furthermore to her familys heritage.
Even generations after, the author exhibits optimism in the last
stanza as she dreams of her yet conceived child (41-43). As she thinks
of the quilt being a symbol of her familys heritage, she looks towards
the future with optimism. Therefore, there is a timelessness motif that
is associated with the quilt, where her fondness and love for this quilt
extends beyond time as it inspires past, present, and future
generations.
Part B Literary Devices
The use of a caesura is used in the first stanza when the author
narrates, My sister and I were in love / with Meema s Indian
blanket. (1-2) This pause caused by the line break gives the reader
initial impression that she and her sister were romantic love, however
in the second line, it is revealed that they were actually in love with
their grandmothers blanket. By doing so, the author illuminates a

level of complexity stating that this is no ordinary blanket, thus


strengthening the significance of the quilt.
The use of imagery is prominent throughout the poem. This is
done often with vivid colors where many of her descriptions are
associated with color. For example, when she narrates, Id dream of
myself, of my childhood of miracles, of my fathers burnt umber pride,
my mothers ochre gentleness. (37-39) With the use of colors, the
author narrates the poem in a reminiscent tone that is very
heartwarming. As a result, this reinforces her fondness for the quilt.
There is a lack of rhyming scheme in this poem as the author
leans towards a narrative poem where she is simply telling a story
that is clear and concise. There is no particular emphasis on words
due to the lack of rhyme and meter, which also implies the importance
in the entirety of the poem (besides the clean narrative effect).
The author has a reminiscent tone throughout the poem as the
majority of the poem is written in past tense. This gives the poem a
nostalgic feeling as the author is recalling her fondest memories; the
association of her memories with colors aids in this effect. For
example, when she says, Now Ive found a quilt / Id like to die under;
Six Van Dyke brown squares, / two white ones, and one square / the
yellowbrown of Mamas cheeks. (13-17) The author makes reference
to Van Dyke brown, which is an old photography process. With the
imagery of old pictures, the reader imagines the quilt to have the
nostalgic feeling with the colors of brown, black, and white. There is
also a playful tone when the author uses nicknames such as: Meema,
Daddy, and Mama. Furthermore, there is a playful and gay scene with
music, dancing, and laughter among her imagination associated with
the quilt (28-32).
There is a use of allegory in the statement, I think Id have
good dreams / for a hundred years under this quilt. (21-22) The
author uses figurative language to convey the timelessness of the quilt
by mentioning a period of a hundred years. This can be taken the
more literal sense where she spends a significant amount of time
with the quilt, however it evidently goes beyond that, as suggested by
the title, The Century Quilt. With the quilt, the author connects the
past, present, and future with her imagination. Therefore, with her
grandma owning a quilt, herself owning a quilt, and her yet conceived
child owning a quilt, she expresses hope that the legacy of the quilt
will last a century, and perhaps longer.