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The Negro Speaks of Rivers

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Lorraine Hansberry's play A Raisin in the Sun and Langston Hughes' poem "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" share various themes and issues amongst them. The most essential of these themes is that of African Americans finding, or becoming conscious of, their identity in the United States of America. Hughes portrays this when he says:

"I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.

I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.

I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.

I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln

went down to New Orleans" (Hughes 706).

What Hughes tries to declare with this poem is that the history of these rivers runs parallel to that of black people. Whether it is in the Euphrates, Congo, Nile or in the Mississippi the negroes have been there and have fallen victim to many societies. But even though they have faced hardships they continued to move on and become stronger, giving each new generation more freedom than the last. They have continued to fight for what they believe in and because they where persistent they achieved what they wanted and their souls grew "deep like the rivers" (Hughes 706).

Just like Latin Americans, born and raised in the United States, who identify themselves with Caribbean islands and South America; and Asians who identify themselves with Asiatic countries (like China, Japan, Korea and others); African Americans have always identified themselves with Africa. Even Hughes himself makes reference to this in his poem when he says: "I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it" (Hughes 706). The Nile is of course a river that flows northward in Africa which is regarded as the longest river in the world. And alongside its banks a major civilization called the Egyptians was founded. Like the poem suggests, Africans were used forcefully to build the great pyramid commissioned by the Egyptians. Many of these Africans perished because of hard labor, diseases, and malnutrition. They endured slave labor in their time and their descendants would have to do so for many years after them before anyone took a stand against all the discrimination, prejudice, and abuse that was imposed on them. This is why many African Americans identify themselves with Africa. It's because it reminds them that no matter how hard things got your ancestors were still able to withstand it and keep on pushing forward. This idea gives them a source of strength, hope, and motivation.

Lorraine Hansberry's characters from her play A Raisin in the Sun demonstrated that they longed to identify themselves with their ancestors. With those men and woman who faced prejudice, discrimination and even slave labor. Characters like Mama, Beneatha and Walter idealize the generations that came before them because they all consisted of hard working people with fine morals who never gave up. Mama says this herself when her son suggests that they should accept the deal (to sell the house to the 'white folks' in the neighborhood) that was proposed by Mr. Linder. While disappointed by her son she says: "Son- I come from five generations of people who was slaves and sharecroppers- but ain't nobody in my family never let nobody pay 'em no money that was a way of telling us we wasn't fit to walk the earth. We ain't never been that poor. We ain't never been that- dead inside" (Hansberry 1350). With these powerful words



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