What is the critical appreciation of "The Slave's Dream"?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is clear that this excellent poem, above all, seeks to present the brutality of slavery by presenting us with the central image of a slave, on his plantation and dying, dreaming of his former life of liberty in Africa before he was captured and his life transformed so radically for the worse. The contrast between these two states is of course meant to highlight how terrible slavery is, as we see the slave at the beginning of the poem with "matted hair" and "buried in the sand" with a sickle in his hand. The dreams he has capture the beauty of Africa and the freedom he enjoyed as the author imagines he was some kind of African noble, striding as a "king" in his home country. He is reunited in his dreams with his "dark-eyed queen" and their children and is able to relive his freedom in amidst the beauty of Africa and her flora and fauna, which are described using excellent imagery:

At night he heard the lion roar,

And the hyena scream,

And the river-horse, as he crushed the reeds

Beside some hidden stream;

And it passed, like a glorious roll of drums,

Through the triumph of his dream.

Sound, colour, and sight are used to great effect to conjure up the dream of home in the slave's mind. Finally, the dream reaches its climax as the liberty of Africa is shouted out through a personification of the forests and deserts, making the dreamer "smile" in his sleep. However, the joy of this "return" is cut short by the final stanza, when we realise that the slave has died and his body is described as a "worn-out fetter" deserted by his soul. Longfellow in this poem therefore presents us with the brutality of slavery, evoked through the "driver's whip" and the "heat" of the day, and the lack of freedom that has been stolen from the slave. However, some critics argue that the dream Longfellow creates is a romanticised view of African life.