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The Negro Speaks of Rivers

The Negro Speaks of Rivers


by Langston Hughes

The Negro Speaks of Rivers Theme of Freedom and Confinement

On our journey through time in "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," our speaker begins with the cradle of civilization on the banks of the Euphrates River. Next he stops by the Congo River basin where we are lulled by the lapping waters (and are reminded of the hypothesis that humans originated in Africa), and heads toward Egypt where we join other peasants (perhaps forced into working) in building the pyramids. Lastly, he ends the tour at the Mississippi River, the heart of slavery in America. The journey takes us from moments of freedom (the Euphrates and the Congo) toward confinement (the Nile and the Mississippi). Ultimately, we watch the end of slavery and see freedom restored.

Questions About Freedom and Confinement

  1. As he recalls his past, when is our speaker free and when is he confined?
  2. Do you get the sense that our speaker is currently free?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

At the end of the poem, our speaker is free.

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