Who Is The Speaker Of The Poem Parsley?

by Amy

The poem “Parsley” is written by Rita Dove, a renowned African American poet and Pulitzer Prize winner. “Parsley” is included in her collection Museum and is one of her most powerful and evocative works. The poem is based on the Parsley Massacre, a horrific event that took place in 1937 in the Dominican Republic under the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo.

Summary and Context

“Parsley” is divided into two parts: “The Cane Fields” and “The Palace.” Each part presents a different perspective and narrative voice. The first part, “The Cane Fields,” is narrated from the perspective of Haitian workers, capturing their fear and suffering as they face persecution. The second part, “The Palace,” is narrated from the perspective of Rafael Trujillo, highlighting his cold, authoritarian nature. The poem explores themes of power, cruelty, language, and identity, drawing a stark contrast between the oppressor and the oppressed.

Overview of the Poem’s Themes and Background

Central Themes

Power and Cruelty: The poem delves into the brutal exercise of power and the cruelty that often accompanies it. Trujillo’s regime is depicted as merciless, highlighting the arbitrary and violent nature of his rule.

Language and Identity: Language plays a crucial role in the poem, symbolizing both cultural identity and a tool of oppression. The inability to pronounce the word “perejil” (parsley) correctly becomes a death sentence for many Haitian workers, underscoring the power dynamics embedded in linguistic differences.

Fear and Suffering: The Haitian workers’ perspective vividly portrays their fear and suffering under Trujillo’s dictatorship. The poem captures their vulnerability and the constant threat of violence they face.

Historical and Cultural Background

The Parsley Massacre, also known as El Corte, was a genocidal massacre carried out by the Dominican army under the orders of Rafael Trujillo in October 1937. Trujillo targeted Haitian immigrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent, using their inability to pronounce “perejil” correctly as a criterion for execution. This event is a significant historical and cultural trauma, reflecting the deep-seated racial and linguistic tensions in the region.

Analysis of the Speaker

Identify the Speaker(s)

“Parsley” features two distinct sections with different speakers:

“The Cane Fields”: Narrated from the perspective of Haitian workers, this section captures their collective fear and suffering. The speaker here represents the voice of the oppressed, providing a poignant depiction of their plight.

“The Palace”: This section is narrated from the perspective of Rafael Trujillo, offering a glimpse into the mind of the dictator. The speaker here embodies the voice of power and authority, revealing Trujillo’s ruthless nature.

Narrative Perspective

“The Cane Fields”: The narrative perspective in this section is collective, reflecting the shared experiences of the Haitian workers. The use of the first-person plural (“we”) creates a sense of communal fear and solidarity among the workers.

“The Palace”: In contrast, this section adopts a third-person limited perspective, focusing on Trujillo’s thoughts and actions. This shift in perspective allows the reader to understand the dictator’s motivations and the cold calculation behind his cruelty.

Effect of Perspective Shifts

The shift in perspective between the two parts of the poem enhances the reader’s understanding of the events and themes. By juxtaposing the voices of the oppressed and the oppressor, Dove highlights the stark power imbalance and the dehumanizing effects of Trujillo’s regime. The dual perspectives also emphasize the profound impact of language and identity in the context of political violence.

Characteristics of the Speaker(s)

Traits and Tone

Haitian Workers: The tone in “The Cane Fields” is one of fear, desperation, and helplessness. The workers are portrayed as vulnerable and terrified, their voices filled with a sense of impending doom. Their collective identity is marked by a shared experience of suffering and a struggle for survival.

Rafael Trujillo: The tone in “The Palace” is detached, methodical, and menacing. Trujillo is depicted as a cold, calculating figure, devoid of empathy. His authoritarian demeanor is reflected in his meticulous attention to detail and his ruthless enforcement of power.

Voice and Influence

Haitian Workers: The collective voice of the Haitian workers underscores their shared humanity and the communal nature of their suffering. Their perspective brings an emotional depth to the poem, highlighting the personal toll of Trujillo’s policies.

Rafael Trujillo: Trujillo’s voice embodies the oppressive power of the state. His perspective reveals the dehumanizing effects of his rule, portraying him as a figure of absolute authority whose actions are driven by a desire to maintain control and instill fear.

Interaction with Other Characters

Haitian Workers

Interactions Among Workers: The interactions among the Haitian workers reflect their solidarity and mutual support in the face of terror. Their collective voice emphasizes their shared experience and the strength they derive from each other.

Interactions with Authority: The workers’ interactions with the authorities are marked by fear and submission. The poem captures their sense of powerlessness and the constant threat of violence that hangs over them.

Rafael Trujillo

Isolation: Trujillo’s interactions, or lack thereof, highlight his isolation and detachment from the people he rules. His perspective is largely introspective, focusing on his own thoughts and actions rather than direct interactions with others.

Symbolic Interactions: Trujillo’s relationship with the Haitian workers is symbolically represented through his actions and decisions. His orders and the consequences of his policies create a dynamic of oppression and resistance that defines the poem.

See also: Who Is The Speaker Of The Poem Windigo?

Literary Devices and Techniques

Imagery and Symbolism

Imagery: Dove uses vivid imagery to portray the cane fields and the palace, creating a stark contrast between the world of the workers and the realm of the dictator. The imagery of the cane fields evokes a sense of harshness and suffering, while the palace is depicted as a place of cold, detached power.

Symbolism: The word “perejil” (parsley) serves as a powerful symbol of linguistic discrimination and the arbitrary nature of Trujillo’s cruelty. The inability to pronounce the word correctly becomes a symbol of the workers’ vulnerability and the dictator’s tyranny.

Diction and Tone

Diction: The choice of words in “The Cane Fields” is simple and direct, reflecting the workers’ plainspoken reality. In contrast, the diction in “The Palace” is more formal and detached, mirroring Trujillo’s authoritative tone.

Tone: The tone shifts between the two sections, from the emotional, fearful voice of the workers to the cold, calculating voice of Trujillo. This shift in tone underscores the power dynamics at play and the emotional impact of the poem’s events.

Contrast and Juxtaposition

Contrast: The juxtaposition of the workers’ collective voice with Trujillo’s singular, authoritarian voice highlights the power imbalance and the dehumanizing effects of Trujillo’s rule. This contrast emphasizes the themes of power, cruelty, and resistance.

Juxtaposition: The placement of the two perspectives side by side allows Dove to explore the complexities of the historical event and the different ways in which it is experienced by the oppressor and the oppressed.

Interpretation and Significance

Speaker’s Role

The dual perspectives in “Parsley” provide a multifaceted view of the Parsley Massacre, allowing readers to understand the event from both the victims’ and the perpetrator’s viewpoints. The speakers’ roles are crucial in conveying the emotional and psychological impact of the massacre, as well as the broader themes of power, language, and identity.

Significance in Context

Understanding the speakers’ perspectives is essential to grasping the poem’s exploration of historical atrocities and their lingering effects. The speakers’ voices bring to life the human cost of political violence and the ways in which language can be used as a tool of oppression.


In “Parsley,” Rita Dove masterfully uses the voices of the Haitian workers and Rafael Trujillo to explore themes of power, cruelty, and linguistic discrimination. The poem’s dual perspectives provide a comprehensive understanding of the Parsley Massacre, highlighting the profound impact of Trujillo’s regime on the lives of the Haitian workers. Through vivid imagery, symbolic language, and contrasting tones, Dove captures the emotional and psychological dimensions of this historical event. Understanding the speakers’ roles is crucial to appreciating the depth and significance of the poem, as it offers a poignant commentary on the complexities of power, identity, and resistance.

FAQs about the Poem “Parsley” by Rita Dove

1. What is the theme of the poem “Parsley”?

The theme of the poem “Parsley” revolves around power, cruelty, language, and identity. It explores the brutal exercise of power by Rafael Trujillo, the fear and suffering of the Haitian workers, and the arbitrary use of language as a tool for oppression.

2. What does the poem “Parsley” symbolize?

In the poem, “parsley” symbolizes the arbitrary nature of Trujillo’s cruelty and the use of language as a means of discrimination. The inability to pronounce the word “perejil” correctly becomes a death sentence for many Haitian workers, highlighting the power dynamics embedded in linguistic differences.

3. Why did Rita Dove write “Parsley”?

Rita Dove wrote “Parsley” to shed light on the historical atrocity known as the Parsley Massacre of 1937, where thousands of Haitian workers were killed under the orders of Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo. The poem serves as a powerful commentary on the themes of power, identity, and the dehumanizing effects of political violence.

4. What is represented in the speaker’s dreams in this stanza in “Parsley”?

The speaker’s dreams in “Parsley” often represent fear, trauma, and the haunting memories of violence. For example, in “The Cane Fields” section, the dreams of the Haitian workers reflect their terror and the ever-present threat of death, while in “The Palace” section, Trujillo’s dreams may symbolize his obsession with power and control.

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