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In what ways are the messages about freedom in each song both similar and different?...

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reedcapps | Student, Grade 10 | Honors

Posted July 5, 2013 at 2:56 AM via web

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In what ways are the messages about freedom in each song both similar and different? Given this, how are the emotional qualities of each song similar and different? 

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akannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted July 5, 2013 at 4:24 AM (Answer #1)

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In both songs, freedom is seen as an absolute necessity.  Both songs are undeniable about the need for freedom and its immediacy.  The idea of the chariot being asked to "swing low" is to deliver freedom right now.  There is little waiting in such a condition, as the need for freedom is immediate.  With its constant refrain of "Let my people go," the call to Moses as a deliverer from subjugation is another immediate call to freedom.  Both spirituals depict freedom in an immediate manner, one that can be seen as both a call to be liberated transcendentally from an enslaved condition and one to be liberated in the immediate via the Underground Railroad.  The messages regarding freedom in both spirituals convey a sense of urgency and immediacy within it.

A potential difference in this sense of intensity to the call of freedom might lie in the emotional qualities of both songs.  In "Go Down, Moses," there is a defiance and determination in the drive to achieve freedom.  The repetition of "Let my people go" is not a request as much as it is a demand.  This demand carries with it grave consequences if it is not respected:  "If not, I'll smite your first born dead."  The emotional frame of reference of the spiritual is a demand that carries with it a defiance towards those who engage in enslavement.  

This is seen in a different light in "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot."  While there is an insistence for the chariot to deliver freedom, there is also a resignation in the spiritual.  The speaker is insistent on freedom, but there is a condition of sadness to this condition.  Whereas "Go Down, Moses" featured a note of anger, there is sadness in the condition of the speaker who says suggests that one way or another the idea of "carry me home" will be the end result of the speaker's predicament.  There is almost an elegiac feel to the song in the way that friends are addressed and how angels are summoned.  This sense of the disconsolate is emotionally different from the condition in "Go Down, Moses."  While both songs affirm freedom, there is a slight difference in the emotional timbre of each that reflects how the pursuit of freedom can be seen in different lights.

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