"Song for a Dark Girl " is an elegiac poem about the lynching of a young, black woman. It draws heavily on a song called "Dixie," which was an anthem for the Confederates during the American Civil War. The song is about a former slave who yearns for a...
"Song for a Dark Girl" is an elegiac poem about the lynching of a young, black woman. It draws heavily on a song called "Dixie," which was an anthem for the Confederates during the American Civil War. The song is about a former slave who yearns for a return to the Southern plantation where once he worked.
The original song came out of a very racially provocative form of entertainment known as blackface minstrelsy, popular in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and, during the American Civil War, was sung by people proud to be from and on the side of the Confederate States of America which fought to protect the institution of slavery. It is a song, or rather an anthem, proudly and defiantly declaring allegiance to "Dixie Land." The original song includes lyrics like "hooray! hooray! In Dixie Land I'll take my stand to live and die."
Langston Hughes borrows directly from the original song by re-using a very similar variant of a key line from its chorus, "Away Down South in Dixie," as the first line of each of his three stanzas. However, whereas that line in the original is meant to evoke a proud sense of belonging, Hughes subverts it in his poem by following it with images of a lynching. The fact that Hughes changes the first word of the borrowed line, from "Away" to "Way," is also significant as "Way down" signals something or some place (in this case, "Dixie Land') that is debased, and morally impoverished.
By borrowing from the original "Dixie" song, Hughes turns his poem into a direct attack on everything that the song represents, namely racism and the cruelty and violence that go hand-in-hand with racism. He also, by drawing so heavily on the original song, is directly attacking the people who sing it so proudly. It's as if he is saying to these people that when they sing "Dixie," as a celebration of the South, then what they are really celebrating is the lynching of innocent black people. Hughes, in "Song for a Dark Girl," provides, or exposes the subtext to "Dixie," and thereby exposes the horrors that "Dixie" is really, and immorally celebrating.