The Negro Speaks of Rivers was written by Hughes when he was only seventeen while traveling by train to see his father in Mexico. Arnold Rampersad says that the sense of beauty and death, of hope and despair, fused in his imagination inspired him to write this poem(Rampersad). In the poem, Hughes ties himself to his ancestors, placing them in critical historical, religious, and cultural placed all over the world(GradeSaver).
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It starts with the speaking of his coalition to ancient rivers around the world that existed long before humankind, which in turn made his soul grow deep like rivers. Back then, white people viewed black people as inferior and here, Hughes shows historical equality. He continues to mention four famous rivers, beginning with the Euphrates river, which historians often call the birthplace of human civilization. Next with the Congo River which was home to many flourishing African Kingdoms. Then the narrator mentions the Nile River and Egyptian pyramids. There, he sees the creation of these structures which are deemed one of man’s greatest venture of architecture(GradeSaver). Finally, he goes on the write about the Mississippi River, which he connects American Slavery to Abraham Lincoln. Hughes uses the imagery of roots, veins, rivers as a statement for African American history. Many African civilizations prospered amidst rivers and, according to Nicole Smith, gave life and allowed human veins and firm historical roots. The narrator associates African continuity with the rivers because, like roots and the veins, the rivers gave nutrients essential to their civilization growth and endurance. An essential line in this poem is, My soul has grown deep like the rivers (Hughes). This line is important because alludes that rivers are not only like the actual roots of a bush or a tree, or even the veins in human body, but are like the soul. In another stanza, the narrator states he’s known rivers, an innuendo to roots of knowledge. Even as a biblical reference, trees have been affiliated with knowledge. This knowledge he refers to is similar to preeminent cultural identity and knowledge and roots. These are supported and continued by generations of bloodlines. In America, being any other race besides white, makes being successful and respected a lot harder.
To be a minority in America is to be seen as inferior and incapable of being anything more than the stereotypes upon your race. To be white in America is to be seen as regular and normal, because they are the majority. Black men usually have to put on a facade when they get around white men. This is because throughout history, black men have always been seen as inferior to the white man. Back then, a black man’s mood would change around a white man. Being a white man meant you had a power over whoever you felt was under you so in many cases, a white man could walk in a restaurant and demand that a black man gives up his seat for the white man. I, Too was written by Hughes in 1932 and he also uses free verse. This poem was meant to show that not only white people are American, but African American people are too and should be treated the same. Hughes uses I multiple times throughout this poem to show his personal feelings to the matter of how black people were being treated unequal. In the second stanza, he says, I am the darker brother meaning that just because he is African American doesn’t mean he isn’t an American. In the next five meters he says They send me to eat in the kitchen. When company comes, but I laugh, and eat well, and grow strong. Here, Hughes is stating that African Americans don’t worry about what is being done, but how they are growing diligent and stronger as segregation continues, knowing that equality should come soon. Before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, African Americans weren’t allowed to eat in the same place as white people. African Americans couldn’t use the same entrances or exits, bathrooms, or the same room to eat food in. This is why he mentions that they sent him to the kitchen to eat. In the third stanza, a preview of the future will be like. Hughes uses tomorrow as a metaphor for the future. Tomorrow, I’ll be at the table when the company comes. Nobody’ll dare say to me, Eat in the kitchen, then. Hughes’s use of I is used to show how soon African Americans will rise and be one with the rest of America. In the fourth stanza commences in a way which says African Americans are not genetically bad, but genetically good. The stanza reads Besides, they’ll see how beautiful I am and be ashamed, I too, am America. Hughes says here that once African Americans are views as equal, everyone will see they are not bad but beautiful just like America. Mother to Son was published in 1922. The poem is a conversation between mother and son and the mother is encouraging her son to keep pushing for what he wants regardless of how hard the journey may be. She says her life has not been a crystal stair, meaning her life hasn’t been simple.
She uses splinters and broken stairs to symbolize how her journey up her stairs of life hasn’t been easy but regardless, she is still travelling. Mother knows her son’s life isn’t going to be easy, so she is trying to prepare him for what is to come. This poem is meant to give encouragement to continue to move in life, no matter how hard or difficult life may seem. It is also a great representation of the love a Mother will always have her son. Since she is older, she knows what challenges life could have for her son, so she motivates her son to be gallant and courageous in the midst of the future problems. The reader gathers that the Mother wasn’t raised in the best of conditions, but she needed to go through these experiences in order to become the person she is today. Mother also mentions times in darkness, which alludes that there were times she didn’t know where she was headed and had many low times in her life, but still, she continued on her journey of life. So just like she has done, she encourages her son to continue on his journey of life, regardless of the hardships
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