"Song for a Dark Girl" by Langston Hughes makes strong use of the song "Dixie." How does this affect the impact of the poem?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

"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...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

"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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The poem Song for a Dark Girl, is a haunting poem about racism and injustice. Langston Hughes uses several quotes in the poem to show how heartbroken the girl is.

By the title, you know that the girl is a black girl. She is suffering because of the death of her black lover. Her lover has been hung on a tree. Langston Hughes uses "Dixie" as a way of making sure the readers know this travesty took place somewhere in the south. Throughout the poem, there are slight comparisons to the young man and Jesus. The young girl asks the question of what good it is to pray to a white Jesus.

The use of Dixie, shows that the young girl's heart was broken in the south. It tells the story of how bad things were for these people in the south. Dixie invokes memories of the Civil War, which as we know was a horrible time for slaves. Langston Hughes brings such emotion to just a few lines. The poem is short, but hits you hard. The young girl sings Dixie to let the reader know that her heart was broken in the south. She sings Dixie to let the reader know her lover was killed in the south.

The last line of the poem, is probable one of the most haunting, It says: "Love is a naked shadow on a gnarled and naked tree". The young girl's life has forever changed in the south, so she sings Dixie for us not to forget what has happened.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team