Nostalgia vs. Hostility: On "The South"
Although I'm not quite familiar with the current status of the blacks respectively in the south and the north, "The South" at least offers a historical retrospective over the African American history, whose focus, if taken more specifically, falls on the Civil War period.
In its opening line, the South occurs to the readers in a "lazy, laughing" stance, which is nearly a personified figure of a girl from the South. Nonetheless, the following line, "with blood on its mouth," transforms the innocent girl sharply into a vampire-like woman, a "whore," bringing up the poet's love-hate relationship with the South. Matter-of-factly, more contrasts about the South are to be found in the following part of the poem: on the one hand, the South is "lazy," "sunny-faced," "magnolia-scented," "beautiful," and "seductive;" on the other, however, the South is "beast-strong," "idiot-brained," "cruel," "syphilitic", a "whore." Such piercing contrasts parade towards us at a quickened pace as the poem proceeds further and finally creates a terrifying dualism of the South as described as "passionate, cruel./Honey-lipped, syphilitic--." Then, injustice, judging from the poet's accusation of the South, derives miserably from the horrible basic instincts and prejudice of the human beings ("beast-strong" and "idiot-minded," both of which are solely sensuous descriptions-so are the positive adjectives, of course).
Despite the bitter enslavement, the blacks should have already put down their roots in the South, associating its "warmth" with that of their beloved remote hometown, Africa. The blacks' love for the South, thus, is seriously mixed with nostalgia. Nonetheless, the South wouldn't love back; rather, the South "spits" in the blacks' face in a hostile manner and cruelly drives the blacks to the cold North where there is nothing Africa-like, but, after all, is said to be "a kinder mistress." On account of the South's historical bias, the blacks are pathetically compelled to live in exile in a foreign land-a second time. Although the escape will physically cut off the already sparse connexion with Africa, for the good of the children, the blacks cannot choose but to hit the road again.
Langston Hughes's work is found very much immersed with the position of the blacks. According to my humble understanding, he would elaborately and delicately add as many African elements to his poems so as to serve as a reminder of the blacks' origination in Africa. In this sense, Hughes sounds as if a flag-waver who resorts to the power of poetry to encourage his people. In addition, the repetitive occurrences of the river are not to be ignored. For Hughes, the river may stand for a profound memory of Africa: take "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" for instance, the rivers are described to be as "ancient" as the African history and the poet's soul has thus "grown deep like the rivers." I, as a reader, can easily detect the pride and glory of being a black in reading this. In fact, I suppose Hughes in so doing has achieved successfully as more than a black poet-a non-white poet who takes pride in being non-white.