If someone were looking into the eighth grade classroom at Guilford School from the hallway, they would see twelve African American boys, three white female volunteers, and one white male teacher. In 1925, the year Countee Cullen wrote “Tableau”, walking into such a classroom would receive mortified stares and whispers of disgust. It is now 2013, and the classroom is filled with laughter, community, and progress. I don’t feel as though I am giving charity or wasting my own time when I am sitting in the eighth grade classroom at Guildford. I feel appreciated and welcomed, but challenged at the same time.
The poem speaks of a black and white duo walking “oblivious to look and word”, paying no attention to the judgment of the outside world. The boys appreciate that they have each other to cross the road, that together they make a whole, just as yin and yang. The boys at Guilford look up to their teacher in ways unimaginable. They respect him as much as they would a black man. To them, it does not matter the race of their teacher, rather the opportunity and encouragement their teacher enforces.
Most people look to that one person; a person who can do no wrong. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Victor’s one person is M. Waldman, a chemistry professor. Victor describes “his voice the sweetest I had ever heard.” (27) He believes his encounter with this professor was fate. Waldman admits that he is “happy to have gained a disciple; and if your application equals your ability, I have no doubt of your success.” (28) It is because of this man that Victor Frankenstein pursues his studies in science. Without the teacher as an authoritative but helpful figure, the boys would have no reason to push themselves a little farther. They would not take an extra second to think about their actions and consequences or benefits. Just as Frankenstein needed some reassurance for his path in science, the boys at the school need someone trustworthy to depend on, for assurance that they are worth something. The teacher and guidance gives them a reason to work towards their future, someone to impress, and simply reason to always be the best they can be.
I can’t help but notice how aware and advanced the eighth grade boys are. At times, their language and behaviors aren’t what one would describe as “the norm”. With that said, I am not surprised by their competitive “boy-ish” ways. The boys want to play their music the loudest, be the last one to throw the pen, see who could shoot a crumbled up paper into the garbage from the farthest distance. Friendly competition can be healthy. After reading Paul Laurence Dunbar’s epigram, “Theology”, I get the sense competition. The speaker claims he will be the one going to heaven and he is sure his neighbors will be the ones in hell. In an almost humorous way, boys compete with each other, just as Dunbar speaks of himself as the only one who will end up in heaven. There is no way in knowing if he is really the only of his “neighbors” that belong in heaven and there is no way for the boys to know who is truly the best..something to works towards doesn’t hurt though.