The Subliminal Message of Nikki Giovanni’s "Allowables"

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About this sample

About this sample


Words: 823 |

Pages: 2|

5 min read

Published: Jun 29, 2018

Words: 823|Pages: 2|5 min read

Published: Jun 29, 2018

Table of contents

  1. Literary Analysis of "Allowables"
  2. Significance of the Speaker
    Characterization and Literary Devices
    Tone and Rhythm
  3. Conclusion
  4. References

Poetry possesses the remarkable capacity to transport readers to various destinations, encouraging them to view the world from diverse perspectives. In Nikki Giovanni's poem "Allowables," profound and subliminal messages revolve around the demise of a spider. This literary work paints a vivid picture of an individual who admits to taking the life of a spider out of fear, subsequently embarking on a reflective journey. "Allowables" eloquently develops the overarching theme that humans should embrace kindness and refrain from causing harm to any living creature, employing a rich tapestry of literary elements.

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Literary Analysis of "Allowables"

Significance of the Speaker

Within "Allowables," the speaker, an anonymous entity, employs first-person narration to establish an intimate and relatable connection with the audience. Throughout this 16-line poem, the speaker repeatedly uses the pronoun "I" six times, suggesting the presence of a human perspective. The poem's opening line, "I killed a spider," sets a confessional tone, indicating that the narrator has a significant revelation regarding the spider's demise to share with the reader. By acknowledging their wrongful act, the speaker attains inner peace and resolution, a form of poetic justice. The speaker's role in the poem is pivotal, driving the evolution of the narrative.

Characterization and Literary Devices

The insight into the spider's qualities is conveyed to the audience through the narrator's deft use of literary devices such as symbolism, metaphors, imagery, and personification. Spiders, symbolically, represent human vulnerability and the allure of darkness, a concept seamlessly integrated by the narrator. The speaker assures readers that the spider in question is neither a "murderous brown recluse" nor a "black widow." By referencing various spider species, the poem highlights the importance of diversity and advocates for symbiotic coexistence among all living beings. The poem's thematic underpinning is that humans should refrain from harming others, irrespective of their nature or identity, as diversity is to be celebrated, not feared. The utilization of imagery and personification becomes evident as the poem progresses, revealing that the spider was "only a small / Sort of papery spider." These visual descriptions underscore the spider's vulnerability, describing it as "papery," connoting fragility and weakness. This portrayal rekindles empathy for the spider's unfortunate fate. The narrator further attributes a female gender to the spider by employing gender-specific pronouns such as "she" and "her" in lines 9-11, reinforcing the spider's perceived vulnerability. Consequently, the spider's vulnerability serves as a poignant reminder that it was an unwilling and unjust victim of the narrator's violence.

Tone and Rhythm

Tone and rhythm play a pivotal role in shaping the audience's perspective on the poem's central theme. The poem adheres to a free-verse structure, devoid of a fixed meter or rhyme scheme. The initial stanza comprises 11 lines and sets a rapid and prolonged pace, marked by action-oriented verbs like "killed" and "smashed." However, a line break following the eleventh line signifies a shift from violence to fear. This shift is further underscored by the poem's division into multiple stanzas. Lines 12 to 16 incorporate three line breaks, accentuating the narrator's evolving emotional state. These lines pivot from external actions to internal emotions, marked by the lines "I don't think" and "Frightened," which emphasize the emotional rather than action-oriented nature of this section. The speaker contends that one should not cause harm out of fear, a viewpoint that contradicts the initial lines of the poem. This juxtaposition mirrors real-life situations where hasty actions precede rational thought.


In "Allowables," Nikki Giovanni employs irony as a literary device to underscore the poem's underlying message. The title, "Allowables," implies actions deserving of praise, yet the speaker contemplates their actions rather than celebrating them. The poem critiques human behavior, where actions often diverge from words. Another instance of irony emerges when the narrator uses a book as a tool to end the spider's life. This book symbolizes human wisdom, the knowledge that discourages harm or killing due to fear. The irony within "Allowables" is a conscious artistic choice, amplifying the poem's impact.

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In conclusion, "Allowables" by Nikki Giovanni serves as a poignant reminder that compassion and emotional mindfulness should guide human interactions with all living beings, even when fear seeks to dictate actions. Through adept usage of literary elements and devices, Giovanni effectively communicates the enduring message that kindness and empathy can transcend the limitations of human nature. This poem invites readers to reflect upon the profound power of poetry, kindness, and emotional awareness, which can propel individuals further than their physical journeys alone.


  1. Giovanni, N. (1968). "Allowables." In "Black feeling, black talk/Black judgment" (pp. 33-34). Morrow.
  2. Carruth, H. (1991). The Selected Poems of Nikki Giovanni. William Morrow.
  3. McIntosh-Byrd, K., & Giovanni, N. (2003). Conversations with Nikki Giovanni. University Press of Mississippi.
  4. Harper, D. B. (2018). Reflections on race and class in Nikki Giovanni's Poetry. In A Companion to African American Literature (pp. 395-410). Wiley.
  5. Bloom, H. (Ed.). (2008). Nikki Giovanni. Infobase Publishing.
  6. Lupton, M. (1997). Nikki Giovanni: Poet of the People. Enslow Publishers.
  7. Giovanni, N. (2002). Nikki Giovanni: Poetry Collection. The Academy of American Poets.
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The Subliminal Message of Nikki Giovanni’s “Allowables”. (2021, December 01). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 25, 2024, from
“The Subliminal Message of Nikki Giovanni’s “Allowables”.” GradesFixer, 01 Dec. 2021,
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