Writers the use of lynching as established entertainment from

use both music and language to explore race. They do this through the content
of their poem, context, themes, language, structure and imagery. Two poems, in
particular, ‘Still I Rise’ by Maya Angelou and ‘Song for a Dark Girl’ by
Langston Hughes use language to explore and convey a message about race. ‘Still
I Rise’ is about a call for African Americans to be proud of their origin; it
is against the prejudice and submission that African Americans had to
experience. It is also about overcoming oppression with grace and pride, having
no sympathy for the people who you put down and giving validity to the reasons
for cruelty.  

             ‘Song for
a Dark Girl’ is about a black girl whose lover, who is also black, has been
tortured, hung and then displayed for humiliation at a public place with a lot
of traffic. For his murder to have occurred in such a public place implies that
the mob had no shame and was intended not only to punish the victim but to warn
anyone else who might somehow offend the mob. By using lyrics from “Dixie”
within this chant-like-poem, Hughes also juxtaposes the use of lynching as
established entertainment from the perspective of the white community and as a
paralysing form of control from the viewpoint of black people, perceiving white
people in a negative way because of their actions towards black people. In
addition, ‘Still I Rise’ perceives this message too.

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Both poets believe that there is discrimination towards their
race and culture as slavery greatly restricted the ability of African-Americans
to practise their original traditions. The white people were believed to be discriminating
towards the black people as the black culture had and continues to have a
profound impact on the American culture as a whole. Angelou questions ‘Why are
you beset with gloom?’ as the white people have no reason to be upset with her.
She uses the noun ‘gloom’ to convey people’s sadness towards her culture and
beliefs. The ‘gloom’ is the result of an unwillingness to accept oppression any
more and to establish that the reader should feel guilt for trying to oppress
the freedom of the confident speaker. Angelou expresses this through a bitter
tone to demonstrate her aggression towards people judging her of her beliefs,
race and even colour. Angelou’s bitter tone is conveyed constantly by her
questioning the reader because she wants to know if her attitude causes the
reader discomfort about the cruelty that her race has endured. However, this
concern is seen as false to her oppressors as she inserts a sarcastic humour
into the poem to offset her anger and assuredness.

comparison, Hughes expresses his views on discrimination towards his race
through the statement of ‘they hung my black lover’. Hughes uses the adjective
‘black’ to emphasise that being black was peoples only reason to accept the
lynching of the woman’s lover, which Hughes, along with other black people,
think is wrong. Here, the woman also does not accuse anyone specifically of
hanging her lover, just ‘they’. Although, the point here is being taken by an
ambiguous ‘they’, indicating that there are multiple people involved in the
lynching but the woman may never know who ‘they’ are. Both poets were
successful in conveying their opinions upon discrimination towards black people
as they described in such detail the horrors and events that they went through.
This extreme detail concluded in the reader sympathising and empathising with
both poets.


Both poets are not afraid to tell people how they are truly
being treated just because of their race, they are standing up for what they
believe in as they believe that they should be treated the way every other
person gets treated regardless of their colour, race or culture. The both poets
also emphasise what they have to go through just to survive day-to-day life.
Angelou states that people can ‘shoot… cut… kill’ but she will always rise
above the conditions that she has been forced to suffer in. Angelou uses a
semantic field of aggression to focus the reader’s attention on the anger that
she is withholding. Angelou includes words such as ‘broken’, ‘bowed head’,
‘lowered eyes’, ‘teardrops’, ‘soulful cries’ and ‘past rooted in pain’, which
all refer back to the atrocities subjected upon the African race. Moreover, she
is also referring to women that have been subjected to violence and abuse by
men in the past. She also uses hyperboles like ‘shoot’, ‘cut’ and ‘kill’, the
use of these powerful words add a subject or a feeling to the poem or even
emphasise the brutal treatment. Angelou’s air of angry confidence shows that
she does not hold back telling her listeners or readers how she, along with the
rest of her race and black women, are truly treated. Her air of angry
confidence is peppered with sarcastic humour, which indicates that she realises
that she is having an effect on the words and points that she conveys, like how
she will always rise above all discrimination. In stanza one, Angelou states
that she does not care what the history books say, for what she knows, they are
full of twisted lies. The adjective ‘twisted’ stipulates that the people who
have written the history books have twisted the truth in order to create a
version of the ‘lies’ that betters the white people and makes the black people
seem as if they over exaggerate on the things they say that the white people do
to them. However, Angelou opposes this and is not afraid to tell people how she
is truly treated.

              Correspondingly, Hughes describes the
corpse of the woman’s husband in the poem,’Song for a Dark Girl’ as a ‘bruised
body’. The imagery in the quote highlights the brutality of the persona’s husband’s
murder and the conditions in which he has to go through, just because he is
black. Hughes also shows that he does not hold back when revealing crucial
details of how the black people were treated by describing shadows and trees as
‘naked’. The ‘naked tree’ that the black man was hung upon is an example of
personification and a metaphor that may symbolise the nakedness of the soul as
the husband was stripped before he was hung to a cross roads tree that was also
naked, along with the man. The tree could also be naked, as it may have been
stripped of its greenery so it can be used for something awful. Hughes wants to
make a point so the speaker gives us a metaphor, ‘love is a naked shadow on a
naked tree, the speaker describes this shadow and this tree in a way that is
very specific to how the events in this poem have made them feel about love.
The ‘naked shadow’ could be a reference to the body of the woman’s lover, but
the woman’s lover’s dead body now represents love. Either he has become a
shadow to his lover because she is traumatised at the sight of him or she can
only bear to look at his shadow on the naked tree and not his actual body. The
brutality shown in both poems, ‘Still I Rise’ and ‘Song for a Dark Girl’, can
link to the conditions of slavery that the black people had to go to in order
to survive and carry on living.


In the two poems, ‘Still I Rise’ and ‘Song for a Dark Girl’,
both poets use language to explore race. They do this by revealing very
intimate and gruesome details about how their races were and still are treated.
Both poets try to convey a point about the discrimination, prejudice, racism
and injustice that the black people suffered in. In ‘Still I Rise, Angelou
states that every time she had to deal with another bit of racism or
discrimination then she still ‘rises’, this is repeated throughout the poem to
emphasise the point that she is trying to convey. The effectiveness of this
short phrase highlights the great amount of hope and confidence that Angelou
has despite the difficult struggles that she was facing. This also underlines
Angelou’s message to the reader, which is that no matter how much racism,
discrimination, prejudice and injustice is thrown at her, she will always
manage to rise above it all to end the racism. Angelou compares herself to ‘oil
wells’ to symbolise that she is worth just as much as everyone else as oil
wells are very expensive and valuable. This comparison emphasises that Angelou now
has more confidence as a black woman because she has managed to express and
convey a point about her opinions and thoughts. Angelou describes herself as a
‘black ocean’ in her poem, the adjective ‘black’ creates a sense of evil and
fear but mainly draws attention to her skin colour or race. A ‘black ocean’
symbolises cruelty and how things occur unexpectedly which reflects on her own
life. However, the phrase may also be describing her own race, which allows the
reader to understand that the poem is about racism, linking to how writers use
language to explore race. Throughout the poem, Angelou uses multiple rhetorical
questions to connect with the reader; however, they may have other meanings.
Angelou questions ‘Does my sexiness upset you?’ and ‘Does my naughtiness offend
you?’. She uses these rhetorical questions to make her point that her oppressor’s
efforts to demean her are all futile. By questioning the reader, Angelou
manages to catch and draw the readers’ attention to the questions being asked. They
are effective because it makes the reader realise how many people have been
affected by the poem and have been made to feel as Angelou is feeling. The main
reason Angelou uses rhetorical questions is to take the readers and her
relationship to a much more personal level, without realising.

Similarly, in ‘Song for a dark girl’, Hughes uses language devices to
explore race and convey a point about racism. The repetition of ‘Way down south
in Dixie’ lends itself to being chanted by the reader, which links to the
ironic force carried in the word ‘Song’ in the title of the poem as ‘Song’
often suggests joy or celebrating, but this ‘Song’ proves to be extraordinarily
tragic. The repetitiveness could also represent the fact that lynchings became
a common occurrence way down south in Dixie furthermore the structure certainly
has a constant rhythm to it linking to the common occurrence of lynchings. Though
lynchings were becoming common, people did not become numb to their effects. Also,
the repetition of ‘break the heart of me’ acts as a reminder for the woman to
keep feeling some sort of emotion, as losing a loved one can seem like the end
of the world. The persona has to acknowledge her feelings constantly, possibly
as a way to keep herself sane, or to reveal her helplessness. In these lines,
we get a glimpse into the mind of the speaker. The speaker of this poem has
lost her lover and the parenthetical lines serve as the chant of her inner
monologue as she grieves. She repeats this line in the first and last stanza
and it acts as a reminder to keep the emotion. The language used in both poems
can be analysed to explore race, Angelou and Hughes both do this purposely to
convey their points about racism and to end all discrimination against their


To conclude, both poets are forceful to convey a direct
opinion of their views about race and the conditions in which they suffered in,
in order to survive and to live their life fully without any discrimination
against them. To explore race, both poets wrote their beliefs about their race
and the discrimination, prejudice, racism and injustice that they are trying to
overcome in a form of a poem. Another way both Angelou and Hughes explore race
is by not being afraid to tell their readers how they were and still are truly
treated. More importantly, both poets use language to explore race by using
unique language and language devices. By doing this both poets were able to successfully
explore race.

By Tara Atkins