“The Negro Speaks of Rivers” as Empowerment of African Americans

Topics: Slavery in the United States, American Civil War, African American Pages: 3 (916 words) Published: March 26, 2014

African Americans have been through many hardships throughout their history. They went from being treated like non-human beings to being respected in today’s society. A popular movement in African American history is the Harlem Renaissance. During this time period, African American culture was booming! It was known to be one of the most influential movements in its culture. A well known poet during this time period was Langston Hughes. Hughes, a young boy at the time, was famous for his very deep and inspiring poems. He normally wrote about African Americans and their struggles in society. In “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”, Hughes conveys the perseverance of African Americans and the racial inequality faced over the years through the use of various literary devices in order to display those previous struggles of his ancestors that empowered him as a young black man. First, Langston Hughes creates a sense of confidence and security be using the word “Negro” in the title of the poem. Many African Americans despised the word “Negro" and did not claim it. The term was given to African American slaves by their white slave owners. In doing so, Hughes claims an identity that was giving to African Americans by White America. Another example of the speaker claiming the identity is having said “I’ve known rivers:”(line 1). By using first person perspective, he depicts his security in being black instead of using other words such as “they” or “Negros”. The speaker is also connecting himself with his roots. In the first stanza, the speaker’s use of simile emphasizes how old those “known” rivers are. For example, Hughes compares the rivers to being as “ancient as the world” and as “old as the flow of human blood”. The rivers are the struggles in which African Americans before his time have faced. The speaker conveys individual growth when he says, “My soul has grown deep like the rivers”(line 3). Not only is his choice of diction a simile, he also uses imagery to...

Cited: Hughes, Langston. “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”. Portable Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing. 8th ed. Ed. Laurie Kirszner and Stephen Mandell. Boston: Wadsworth, 2013. 686. Print.
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