When color is used as a metaphor for race, it is usually defines "Whiteness" and "Blackness" in relation to each other and assigns certain qualities to one or the other. In this poem, color is a symbol of racial struggle and emotional expression. Struggle creates the need for expression, and expression requires a struggle to find the right words or image.
- Line 3: Labeling the musician as a "Negro" doesn't let the reader assume that the musician is African American or Caucasian. He tells the reader directly. Langston Hughes was against the assumption that "white" meant good or normal (Hughes, Langston. "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain." The Portable Harlem Renaissance Reader), so he won't leave you ambiguity here.
- Line 5: "[P]ale dull pallor" continues the coded words. All three words suggest lack of color and life. If this is true, color is an excess of life.
- Line 9: When the musician's "ebony hands" come into contact with the "ivory key[s]," it makes music. The music is a moaning melody, so the contact isn't so hunky dory.
- Line 10: This contact results in the oh-so-colorful "blues": an African American form of music that laments loss and pain.
- Line 15: When many people think of a soul, they might think of heaven and white light and everything good, right? Don't assume white means good. Not here. The "black man's soul" is the source of emotion and blues music, which are good.