In the first few pages of this novel, Coates explains what the word “body” means to him and how that has portrayed itself in his daily life. In this quote, “ But by now I am accustomed to intelligent people asking about the condition of my body without realizing the nature of their request…hearing this , I felt an old and indistinct sadness well up in me. The answer..is American history….a forgiving God and…torture, theft, enslavement….the reality of “ race” as a defined the need to ascribe bone deep features and to humiliate, reduce, and destroy them” he is describing that how American history has made itself a legacy after all of what they have done to African Americans in the past and how it has been defining him as an individual. It devastates him that with this on his back weighing him down, people continue to ask him about his body with out “ the nature of their request” ( Coates 7). However, in telling his son about this, it is significant because, as bad as it seems, he wants his son to know about their history and to make sure that it stays in the past. Ideally he wants his son to understand that he should not embrace such a negative representation of the African American community, and he should not have that weighing or defining his individuality.
Coates also discusses ways how his son should protect his “ body” through means of protection For example, Coate shares a personal anecdote and a personal belief he had all his life. In this quote he shares “To survive the neighborhoods and shield my body, I learned another language consisting of a basic complement of head nods and handshakes. I memorized a list of prohibited blocks. I learned the smell and feel of fighting weather. … I recall learning these laws clearer than I recall learning my colors and shapes, because these laws were essential to the security of my body” (Coates 23-24). In this quote, Coate is discussing that to feel safe, he has to have an alternative way to do things. Through this he has learned that it is better to live like that to place yourself in something that is safe. This is significant because it touches upon how even before learning the things he needs to as an education requirement, he needed to learn how to survive and not create even more damage on his already damaged soul. Also in his use of diction it defines a lot of how he has processed these experiences. For example, the word “ language” is a metaphor that describes how he sees this alternative as if he is learning another language. The word “colors” and “ shapes” discusses the physical ways these “ laws” or standards have partake in his safety. He sees that these shapes and colors were constantly in the back of his mind and sort of controlling how he see things. Due to this, they are clearer to him now and he will not be controlled by them. In the end, Coates discusses this with his son because he wants his son to know that his first priority is learning how to alter his strategies to protect his developing individuality and survive the world before doing what the world wants him to do.
In addition to his teachings, he understands that his son will not completely understand what he ( Coates) is trying to say and himself. Through this quote “You have not yet grapples with your own myths and narratives and discovered the plunder everywhere around us” he tells his son that he has not grasp what his own life says about himself and his future and in it he will discover that some experiences will not be the greatest( Coates 21). It is significant because it shows that this is a natural process and to expand on their relationship he needs to be open and honest with his son while he teaches and provides the lessons he needs to learn. A lot of the words Coates uses in this quote discusses that through his teaching of protecting his “ body” he understands that there will be failure and that this is essential to his son showing growth. The word “ myths” and “ narratives” represents the stories his son will be spoken to, but they are more of a fairytale than reality. He will not understand the meaning outside of reality until he does. When he understand this, he will discover that this shows him the violence and destruction of the world.. With this ,in means of protecting his body, he will be better prepared for the world.
In conclusion, Between The World and Me, discusses how the word “ body” teaches that a person is a lot more than what their physical characteristics and history entails. Coates teaches his readers that, through our “bodies,” we can define ourselves in any way possible and in order to believe in this, we need to do what ever means necessary to protect ourselves from the damages caused by the world. However, as this is in practice, he also explains that this will be trial and error and a lot of growing needs to be done before perfecting this. All in all, this experience is to find one’s individuality and make it their own through one’s voice.