The Use of Symbolism in the Literature of Harlem Renaissance Authors

When drafting a poem in an influential time period, a writer has many things to think about before diving into the stages of drafting They, of course, have to think about the topic, but they also have to think about how their poem, and if they want, how it proves or enlightens the individuals that read it The writers have to think about if they want the point to be easily seen, or if they want to provoke their readers to manipulate their writing, creating their own viewpoints. If the writer wants one who reads their work to think about their poems, they have to think about the symbolism and how those details are used efficiently. There are many who would say that of course, it would be obvious for Negros, (what authors of the poems would have most likely called themselves during the Harlem Renaissance), would depict or themselves as the “darker brother/sister’s.

In some poems that are not speaking about themselves, the dark shadows that are often referenced in several Harlem Renaissance literature can be acquainted with other characteristics. Angelina Grimke’s two works, “Tenebris” and “The Black Finger”, and Countee Cullen’s, “From the Dark Tower”, painted African American’s life using crop/ growing and dark/shadow like symbolism during the Harlem Renaissance, which helped give a deeper understanding of how one thought in the time period The Harlem Renaissance began around the 1920’s, and it was filled with various different arts including literature that is still well adored to this day The Harlem Renaissance started what many would call a “New Negro Movement“, which helped authors spread the word of Negros speaking against what they are used to The name of the movement itself showed a “cultural spirit was reawakened in African American cultural life” (Lawson).

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Using the platform, and depending on the author, the poems that were written opened a light to how that author thought about what happening around them, Some poems were written based on a positive outlook of peace and harmony, while other Most poems often have shown political views or used metaphors to describe the feeling of Negros during the time period, “The Black Finger” was written 1925 by Angelina Grimke. As the title says, a black, “slim and still” finger is being described. She describes the scenery behind the finger, a golden sky and then she asks a question, “Why, beautiful, still, finger are you black? / And why are you pointng upwards” (Grimke). She is basically asking, how after all that Negros been through can they still point upwards, thanking God, Remembering the time, God played a huge role in Negros life, and many would say that they owe all that they have been through to God The black finger pointing upwards towards.

God symbolizes that even though all that blacks went through there is still hope. In this poem, Grimke wanted to stress the hope and drive the African Americans have, and how they face adversityr This question most likely would have come from someone looking from the outside in, viewing the struggle Negros faced at the time and the fact that they can still hold their ground and be strong shows how powerful they really are, Angelina Grimke also wrote another poem in 1927 titled, “Tenebris”, In general, the poem describes a black hand, touching a white man‘s horse and also picking away at the brick, but like many of Grimke’s writing she ends her poem with a question, “Is it a black hand, / Or is it a shadow” (Grimke). In today’s day and age, we would describe Grimke as a “woke” individualr This means that she was well aware of the pressure and the unfair treatment of Negros during the Harlem Renaissance.

In the “Tenebris”, she presents the struggle of a black man picking away at the brick that was most likely put in place by the white man on the horse The important detail of the white man on the horse presents the constant adversary that Negros have, but the fact that the Black Hand continues to try to break down the barrier that was placed Both “Tenebris” and “The Black Finger” emphasize the importance of hope in Negros during the Harlem Renaissance. In Tenebris, she in a sense shows that African Americans are not going to stop fighting, they are going to push through and as long as they have God and hope, they will surmount over any obstacle that stands in their way. Other writers such as Countee Cullen used sowing and reaping metaphorically to Show her message in her poem, “From the Dark Tower“.

This symbol is often used during the era, but kind of reflects back to there not so distant pass, When talking about sowing and reaping, one must understands that what it means essentially is that when one puts in effort, sometimes you will get back a reward, but with everything, one is not always guaranteed to reap all that they have shown. Cullen saying, “We shall not always plant while others reap“ (Cullen), expresses the problem that Negroes faced for many years. They have been planting, or bettering themselves and making an effort, but their white counterparts always seem to take away and discredit all that they have done. Though the work doesn’t ask a literal question like Grimke‘s, it invokes one thinking on whether or not one should keep trying even though they never reap what they sow. She continues to ask questions throughout her poem like whether, “men should hold their brother’s cheap” or if they should “abject and mute” (Cullen).

Meaning that should a man who knows that they are being afflicted continue, or should they fight back because “we were not made eternally to weep” (Cullen). In a dark way, the poem is acknowledging the hardships that Negros face, but it is not coming up with an answer, but instead saying that over time, relief will come, but not expect it right away. Poems of the Harlem Renaissance used a vary amount of symbolism to invoke questions and show the authors view points on the living and governmental situations that were taking place at the time. Through using works like dark, black, shadows, and referenced to reaping and sowing helped enlighten readers on the standings of Negros at the time, Though Grimke and Cullen were two different authors, that spoke using two different symbols, Lhere idea was the same. The African American will one day be free.

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The Use of Symbolism in the Literature of Harlem Renaissance Authors. (2023, May 10). Retrieved from