Symbolism in The Negro Speaks of Rivers by Langston Hughes

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Symbolism in “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by Langston Hughes

Symbolism embodies Hughes’ literary poem through his use of the river as a timeless symbol. A river can be portrayed by many as an everlasting symbol of perpetual and continual change and of the constancy of time and of life itself. People have equated rivers to the aspects of life - time, love, death, and every other indescribable quality which evokes human life. This analogy is because a river exemplifies characteristics that can be ultimately damaging or explicitly peaceable. In the poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” Langston Hughes cites all of these qualities.
In “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”, the river stands as a symbol of endlessness, geographical awareness, and the epitome of the human soul. Hughes uses the literary elements of repetition and simile to paint the river as a symbol of timelessness. This is evident in the first two lines of the poem. Hughes introduces this timeless symbol, stating, “I've known rivers: I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins” (Hughes 1-2). These opening lines of the poem identifies that the rivers Hughes is speaking about are older than the existence of human life. This indicates the rivers’ qualities of knowledge, permanence, and the ability to endure all. Humans associate “age” with these traits and the longevity of a river makes it a force to be reckoned with. The use of a simile in the line of the poem is to prompt the audience that this is truly a contrast between that ancient wisdom, strength, and determination of the river and the same qualities that characterize a human being. The imagery portrayed in the poem of blood flowing through human veins like a river flows ...

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...urvive, and conquer life and society’s challenges. Hughes was an advocate and speaker for his community. He uses the memory of his past to instill pride in his African American community.
The poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” symbolically connects the fate of the speaker of the poem and his African American community to the indestructible and powerful force on Earth- the river. The river embodies both power and dominance but also a sense of comfort. The poem is a prime example of the message of hope and perseverance to anyone who has suffered or is currently suffering oppression and inequality in their lives and in society. The speaker in the poem pledges to the reader that with hard-work, determination, and willpower to succeed, he will get where he is going regardless of the obstacles and challenges he may face on his path of reaching his goals in life.

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