With vivid descriptions and analogies, Langston Hughes portrays the images of the South and the North and his affection toward them in this poem. The South, mostly personified as a person, has extreme images for the poet. On the one hand, it is "sunny-faced," "beautiful," "passionate," "honey-lipped," and has some attractive sights and qualities such as the "cotton," "warmth" and "magnolia scent." On the other hand, it is "lazy," "idiot-brained," "cruel," and "syphilitic." Despite all these extreme characteristics, the poet is still attracted to the South and willing to devote himself to her. However, because of the poet being a black, the South refuses and humiliates him. Therefore, he can only turn to the North, a "cold-faced" yet "kinder mistress," and hope that his next generations are able to have better lives.
The first eight lines, serving as descriptive representations, offer a clear and lively image of South as a person. He or she inherits the associated qualities most people may have toward the South - bright, idle, optimistic, and a bit more uncivilized, barbaric, and immature compared to the North. Besides, the South has "blood on its mouth" and "scratches in the dead fire*s ashes for a Negro*s bones," which in my perspective might be related to the sufferings black people have endured in the South. Due to those inhumane slavery the South imposed on the black people, the South is stain with blood of black people on its mouth. Also, because of the war and some other deathly sufferings, the South can only find bones of the black in ashes.
The next four lines offers an attractive and representative portrait of the South with senses of sight, hearing and feeling. Each of those nouns not only reveals the Southern atmosphere, but also the poet*s strong fondness toward the South.
Furthermore, the following five lines once again transform the attractive scene of South to a person, a whore. Similar to the South, the whore is pretty, alluring, hot, and sweet. Yet, due to the lasting torture she has endured, she becomes cruel to men and a syphilitic. These extreme images of the South correspond to the first part of the poem, revealing the contradictory aspects of the South and the poet*s complex affection toward it.
Despite the fact that the South is like a whore, the poet still reveals his love toward her in the next five lines. Through these narrative lines, the poet shows his fondness and willingness to devote himself to her. He wants to give some precious gifts to the South such as his talent, his true heart, his poetry, and his love in order to offer her a happier life; however, the South merely insults him and refuses him. She would not take his devotion just because he is black. The repetition of "And I, who am black" strengthens such cruel fact.
Finally, getting over from such torment, the poet offers another hope in the final six lines. He turns to the North, a "cold-faced" and "kinder mistress." "Cold-faced" here is an opposition to the "sunny-faced" South, showing the coldness in climate, people*s personality, and industrial businesses in the North. In spite of the coldness, the North is considered more well-educated and most importantly shows more respect toward the black people. Thus, the North, in contrast to the South being a "whore," is a more respectable "mistress." Hopefully, in the North, the poet*s offspring no longer has to be confined in the painful world of the South, and can have a better life in the North.
Putting lots of emphases on picturing images of the South, the poet expresses his care and fondness toward the South. Though black people are not respected in the South, it still has many qualities that the poet is attracted to. Besides, the Southern region of the United States is where a large proportion of black people is. Therefore, feeling a sense of responsibility to do something for the good of his countrymen, he creates the contrast images of whore and mistress as the South and the North in order to make people aware of the different treatment they receive in these two areas. Instead of despising the South for the humiliation he receives, he is actually hoping that someday the South can be a place like the North where the blacks are treated with kindness.