Symbols of Langston Hughes poetry

Question: Discuss the symbols of Langston Hughes’ poetry. Symbols of Langston Hughes poetry.


Langston Hughes‘s poetry depicts the environment of African Americans in the 1920s. As a member of the small ethnic community, he has been nearly forced to adopt a symbolic writing technique for the purpose of expressing his liberal attitude though symbolism is the soul of modern English poetry.

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Symbolic imagery in Langston Hughes’ poetry

There is hardly a poem of Hughes that does not have any symbolic significance but the poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” is such a poem in which metaphorical statements based on symbols have been used throughout the poem. The multifarious symbolic meanings of this have been especially applied to identify the identity of African Americans.

The symbols of the old rivers

The old rivers can be interpreted in a variety of ways. They represent the birth and growth of African American culture and the most significant moments of their past. The words written in this poem represent the pride and wisdom of a group of outstanding people and this group is certainly the Negro Community.

Great use of the pronoun

Throughout the poem, Hughes like Walt Whitman has used the word “I”  to declare confidently that the Negro community is fully connected to America’s struggles and success stories.

The birth of life and the beginning of civilization

In the fourth line of the poem, Hughes talks about the Euphrates River. This river is the symbol of the birth of life and the beginning of civilization. This river represents the youth of African Americans. Hughes then speaks of the Congo River in Africa. This is the home image of many African Americans. It represents a place of tranquility and peace in their lives.

Inauguration of slavery

Hughes writes about the river Nile and the Great Pyramid of Egypt. The pyramids can be seen as a symbol of the slavery of many people because of the slave labor that led to the creation of this great structure. And the river Nile that is situated in the Continent of Africa is considered to be the gateway of culture and civilization.

The versatile symbolic use of the Mississippi River

Finally, there is writing about the great Mississippi River. Many symbols come from this river. To many whites, it represents prosperity, especially during the Civil War when the slave trade was one of the mainstays of the economy. This river to many African Americans may represent the oppression of their people.

Hope and freedom

The panorama of Abe Lincoln riding on the Mississippi can be seen as a symbol of hope and freedom to the slaves of the South. The fact that he comes to the banks of this particular river represents the time of the coming change.


To conclude, Langston Hughes has been a fabulous narrative poet like a novelist by dint of his symbolism. He has a complete touch of creative genius from natural sources, small things, and incidents. His life-long struggle is the consequence of the top position of the Negroes in America at present.

SR Sarker
SR Sarker
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