"The Harlem Dancer" Speaker

Harlem 1

A Harlem night club in the 1920's.

The speaker of the poem“The Harlem Dancer” is a great example of a fully anonymous modernist narrator. We know little to nothing about this speaker, only that he is in the same nightclub as the dancer and seems to have a fair amount of knowledge about what he is watching. This anonymity is interesting, for while poetry is a very internal or emotional form, keeping the speaker anonymous allows for the poem to fully focus on another figure. Since the speaker is unrecognizable to us, we aren’t concerned with the details of how the speaker is feeling; all of our attention is to the dancer that he is describing.

More than anything else, anonymity provides the speaker with the gift to fully and objectively observe the world around him. He is a spectator, like the others in the room, but he has not emotionally lost himself to watching this dancer. He is not hypnotized by this dancer, and therefore is able to become an all-perceiving narrator. This speaker is not only able to understand what the dancer is doing, but understands the response to the dancer by others, as seen in the description: “The wine-flushed, bold-eyed boys, and even the girls/Devoured her with eager, passionate gaze”. Similar to Nick Carraway, by becoming more anonymous and omnipresent, this speaker is given the opportunity to be critical of the situation around him. He is not simply caught up with the fun of the club, but can see the reality of the spectator/dancer relationship.

In the same vein, anonymity allows the speaker to see deeper into the dancer. The turn at the end of the poem, the recognition of “her falsely-smiling face” is a direct response to his anonymity. His being unseen and therefore unbothered by others allows him to spend more time focusing on the dancer, and come to understand the truth of what the dancer is hiding.