Intentional Ambiguity: Through Actions and Words (Soul Gone Home)

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Intentional ambiguity: Through actions and words

Langston Hughes’s Soul Gone Home depicts a struggling relationship between a mother and her son. Ronnie, the son, has just died, and the manuscript portrays a scene of his true feelings, now that he is dead and can speak his mind. His harsh words hit the mother in the heart, as she now is being accused of maternal ignorance. However, the words don’t paint the whole picture. Hughes’s dark imagery is emphasized through the exaggerated gestures and stage directions he dictates, conveying the complicated and often ambiguous feelings about the relationship between the mother and her child.

The opening act of the play sets up this dark imagery, giving us a first glimpse at the complex family relations. As indicated by the introducing stage direction, “As the curtain rises, his mother, a large, middle-aged woman in a red sweater, kneels weeping beside the cot, loudly simulating grief” (Hughes 535). Right off the bat, we as readers are led to make assumptions about what is going on, even before the dialogue begins. At a first look, it seems to be a typical relationship, a mother kneeling down, grieving beside her dying son. However, throughout the play, the ambiguous and even contradicting actions cloud our vision, making it hard to truly understand this family relationship. In the first spoken dialogue, the mother cries out, “Can’t you see she’s bowed down in sorrow?” (535). Hughes’s diction selection is particularly interesting here within the greater syntax. The sentence construction with the mother speaking in third person makes the statement stand out more, and seems to exaggerate her feelings. The word “bowed down” adds to this emphasis on the mother’s “sorrow”. This gesture of bowing down seems to show a deeper sense of respect and grief. However, the over-emphasis the mother goes through to demonstrate her grief seems a little over the top. As the play continues, we are baffled by this...
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