Cultural Identity In Langston Hughes The Negro Speaks Of Rivers

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“The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by Langston Hughes compares the history and the soul of black communities to four great rivers around the world. The poem takes the reader on a historical journey through different places and times. It links black history with the birth of civilization and the creation of the world: “I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.” Hughes conception of the black experience and rich ancient existence in “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” can be analyzed through Stuart Hall’s second definition of cultural identity presented in his essay “Cultural Identity and Diaspora”. Stuart Hall defines cultural identity in two ways. The first is an essentialist identity, which focuses on the …show more content…
The “I” and the term “the Negro” in the title serve as the collective voice of the people. Hall would define the “I” as the portrayal of black people having only one shared culture and experience, a ‘oneness’ that is “the essence of the black experience”(Hall). The rivers in the poem then represent a deep shared history and culture that is essentially the same, but like the great rivers of the world, this history is vast, always moving and transforming. This ability to move and transform relates to Hall’s second view of cultural identity, which he describes as not “an essence but a positioning”. He believes that cultural identity is more than a shared experienced rooted in the past, it also changes depending on the position, whether it’s within or outside of the culture or a different geographical region. Hughes is able to demonstrate cultural positioning by connecting black communities and experiences to four different regions, the Middle East, North and Central Africa and the Americas, thus describing aspects of the African

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