Between the World and Me


Ta-Nehisi Coates

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Themes and Colors
African-American Family and Heritage Theme Icon
Black Bodies Theme Icon
Captivity, Violence, and Death Theme Icon
Youth, Education, and Growth Theme Icon
Myth vs. Reality Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Between the World and Me, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

African-American Family and Heritage

Between the World and Me is dedicated to Coates’ son, Samori. The book is written in the second person, directly addressing Samori and referring to his family members as “your mother,” “your grandfather,” and so on. This format of an extended letter from father to son centers the theme of family and inheritance, creating the impression that the larger readership is secondary to the more immediate conversation between father and son. This framing…

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Black Bodies

Coates deals extensively with the theme of black bodies, arguing that “the question of how one should live within a black body… is the question of life.” He shows how racism operates through the control, manipulation, and exploitation of black bodies and the resulting fragility of black bodies within a racist society. Coates traces this fragility back to the commodification of black bodies during colonialism and slavery, meaning the way in which black people were…

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Captivity, Violence, and Death

Coates’ exploration of black existence in America is inescapably haunted by legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, and of the current reality of mass incarceration and police violence. Early in the book, he notes that he began writing in the wake of the racist killings of Eric Garner, Renisha McBridge, John Crawford, Tamir Rice, and others. Later, he reveals a much more personal example in the form of his friend from Howard, Prince

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Youth, Education, and Growth

Given that Between the World and Me is addressed to Coates’ 15-year-old son, Samori, it is unsurprising that much of the book focuses on the theme of youth, education, and growth. Rather than represent only the positive aspects of this topic, however, Coates conveys that it is an intensely charged issue, both for himself and African Americans at large. Indeed, one of the book’s major arguments is that black people are not afforded…

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Myth vs. Reality

One of the central principles Coates lays out in Between the World and Me is that the popular view of American history is a dangerous myth that obscures the racist reality of the country’s past and present. Part of this myth is the false belief in the reality of race itself. Coates argues: “Americans believe in the reality of ‘race’ as a defined, indubitable feature of the natural world. Racism… inevitably follows from this inalterable…

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