Waniek’s “The Century Quilt” not only illustrates the importance that her Meema’s quilt had in her life but also represents her family, specifically her grandmother. Through many literary devices such as vivid imagery, symbolism, and structure, the author is able to create not only a reminiscent tone, but also depict how Waniek is hopeful for the future.
The poem’s structure is a vital part when creating the complex meanings of the quilt. In the first Stanza, the writer’s nostalgic tone brings forth the significance her grandmother’s blanket had on her. Waniek writes that she fell “in love with Meema’s Indian blanket,” (1-2). With these lines, Waniek depicts how she discovered the significance a quilt could have on her life. “Now I have found a quilt” (13) Waniek writes in her second stanza. This line is necessary to create the present tense Waniek needs in order to be optimistic about the future. In the third stanza, Waniek is not only reminiscent but also wishful that her experience with her new quilt will shadow her grandmother’s.
Symbolism is a major technique that the author uses to get the meaning of the quilt across to the reader. In every stanza, Waniek likens the quilt to her family in order to describe how much the quilt reminded her of them. To her, her grandmother’s quilt reminded her of her childhood. She describes how she remembered “play[ing] in its folds and be chieftains and princesses” (11-12). She uses these lines to demonstrate how the quilt represented her youthful and energetic days with her sister. In the second stanza she compares one of her new quilt’s squares to “the yellowbrown of mama’s cheeks” (17) to illustrate how the quilt symbolizes the racial diversity of her family.
In the third stanza Waniek expects to have “good dreams for a hundred years under the quilt” (21-23) as her grandmother must have had under her quilt. This stanza again alludes back to her grandmother and the dreams she must have had under her quilt. Waniek considers the things she may dream of when she wrote “perhaps I’d meet my son or other child, as yet unconceived” (42-43). These lines are again alluding to her family specifically to her sons. Her quilt symbolizes every member of her family but specifically her grandmother who introduced her to the love one could have for a quilt.
Waniek uses vivid color imagery in her poem. In the first stanza Waniek writes that she “fell asleep under army green” (2-3) a relatively dull color. Then her grandmother came to live with her and brought a lively and colorful quilt that Waniek “planned to inherit” (9). In the second stanza Waniek writes that in her new quilt “each square holds a sweet gum leaf whose fingers [she] imagined would caress [her] into silence” (18-20). This paints a vivid image of her new quilt gently putting her asleep while also personifying the quilt. Waniek writes of her father’s “burnt umber pride” (39) and her mother’s “ochre gentleness”. These lines paint a vivid picture of the loving qualities that her parents possess.
Marilyn Nelson Waniek is extremely symbolic when describing her quilt and comparing it to her family. Through vibrant imagery and a careful structure Waniek is able to create a reminiscent yet hopeful tone which abetted the writer in creating the complex meaning that Waniek attributes to “The Century Quilt”.