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.
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