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The Negro Speaks of Rivers by Langston Hughes

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Essay: “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”

The poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by Langston Hughes contains many symbolic meanings about the identity of African Americans. Throughout the poem, Hughes, uses metaphorical statements to suggest to the readers what the soul and heart of the African American has experienced and what they have been put through. Also in this poem is history, history of the African Americans and what they were back in the day; slaves. But what does the constant mention of “rivers” mean?

Now for the symbolism in “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” they are of the old rivers that can be interpreted in many different ways. They could represent the birth and growth of the African American culture, and some of the most significant moments of their past. The words written is this poem represent the pride and knowledge of a group of outstanding people aka African Americans who are just human like everyone else is. Also in the poem, Hughes, the author portrays the use of the word “river” to identify himself, but it may not represent him, but instead it could embody the culture of African Americans. And when he says, “I’ve known rivers.” he may actually mean that the African people have seen those very times that are described and viewed as “rivers.” The times of slavery. The four rivers mentioned in the poem (Euphrates, Congo, Nile, and Mississippi) are my guess at the meaning of slaves, these rivers represent the slaves, broken and brought back up.

For the history within the few sentences of this poem, there is a very specific sentence hinting and telling us readers what this may all mean without mentioning slavery at all. He narrates past-tense, when he “bathed in the Euphrates” and “built the hut near the Congo.” Then Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans”, this happened in history, meaning this sentence implies the African American’s history of slavery in America. This tells the existence of the slavery for a long period of time in America and the efforts to get rid of it and abolish it, which ended by the Civil War in 1865 and Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation for freeing the slaves. Therefor, it is the history of people, black people, who were finally free.

Now personally I feel that the meaning of “rivers” is actually the African American



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