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Themes

In "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," our speaker seems to be one person at first, but soon we get the feeling that he is speaker for an entire community. His voice just might be a collective voice of a people. In telling the story of this community from the dawn of civilization until the end of slavery in America ( really until the Harlem Renaissance, considering poet Langston Hughes was from that era), the speaker records a history for his community, puts it down in writing. He uses his memory of the past to celebrate the present moment and to instill pride in his community.

Questions About Memory and the Past

  1. What role does memory play in this poem?
  2. What moments in the past does our speaker discuss?
  3. Do we get a sense of the future in this poem?

Chew on This

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

The speaker in "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" redefines history.

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