Who were the people referred to in the poem The Cold Within by James Patrick Kinney? Bring out their characteristics.
In Kinney’s poem the six people, who gathered around the burning fire, represent those with discriminatory attitude towards others over petty barriers like colour, race, religious faith, class, caste, gender and ethnicity.
To be precise, among the ‘six humans’ in the poem, two were with two different colours — White and Black (the first woman and the fifth man), two were with different social classes — the poor and the rich (third and fourth), the second man was a bigot and the last man was selfish and opportunistic. These differences among them are symbolic of the discrimination present among us — the entire human race.
To give a character sketch of each of the six persons, the first one was a white woman. She noticed that among the faces round the fire one was black. Her colour prejudice made her hold her log back. She found it unacceptable to help a black man with her property. She represents the typical racist attitude of some white people towards the black.
The next man looked around and saw that one man was of different path in terms of religious faith. So it was a bad idea to help him with his log. That is why he decided not to give the fire his stick of birch. This person is a bigot — intolerant towards those holding different opinions. These people tend to hold that everything they believe or do is right and all the others are wrong.
The third man ‘sat in tattered clothes’. His coat was old and torn and insufficient to protect him from the cold. So he gave his coat a hitch. He was obviously a poor man, understandably devoid of social recognition. He is a representative of the poor people who consider themselves to be the victims of social injustice and therefore hold ill-feelings towards the rich. According to him, the rich are idle and he should not use his log to warm such an idle fellow. He shares most poor people’s view that rich men have no work to do and they don’t deserve to be rich.
Next to the poor was the rich man. He ‘sat back and thought of the wealth he had in store’. He was concerned about protecting his hard-earned money from the ‘lazy shiftless poor’. So we see, being on the opposite social classes, the poor and the rich, both are prejudiced against one another. To one’s eye the other is lazy and idle. Most rich men feel that poor are poor because they are lazy and ignoring work. However, it was obvious that the rich man won’t share ‘what he had earned’ with the poor.
Now comes the black man. His face was speaking of his desire to take revenge against the white people who treat them so badly. He found that not sharing his log was his only chance to offend the white. So he was not ready to leave it so easily. It represents the obstinate and dogged sense of revenge of a black man who suffers much in the hands of the white. It is similar to Shylock’s persistence of revenge against Antonio in The Merchant of Venice.
The last man of this ‘forlorn group‘ was a man who did nothing except for gain. Actually he was quite different from the previous five, as he did not hold any prejudice against anyone. He was just a kind of a selfish and opportunistic man. He found that by sharing his log with other people present there he won’t get anything in return. So he decided to stay away from the ‘game’.
Thus we see that all the six persons were prejudiced, narrow-minded or simply unwise. They had to pay a heavy price for their lack of compassion for the fellow men. The poet comments that they did not die due to the cold outside, but died from the cold within — the coldness of their heart — the lack of warm human spirit.