Friday, February 11, 2011

Anonymous – "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," "Go Down, Moses," "Keep Your Hand on the Plow"

Freedom was a main topic to speak of in African American writing during this time period of Realism. Songs were probably the most popular versions of expressing their wanting of freedom because they were able to memorize the songs quite easily because of their constant repetition and simplicity in how they are written, as proven in "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," "Go Down, Moses," and "Keep Your Hand on the Plow." Also, these songs were not directly made to talk about freedom because, if the slaves were talking about running away and lavishing themselves in freedom, the white slave owners would kill them before they even had the chance; instead, the songs would talk about Biblical stories, such as the story told in "Go Down, Moses," where Moses goes into Egypt to take the slaves across the River of Jordan to their freedom ("Go Down," 346). African American slaves were known to be heavily into religion, while their white owners hardly had time to attend church service, so it was very easy for slaves to discretely discuss their plans of escape without their guards or owners understanding what they were really talking about. Each song is written for the moment, usually involving either stories of escaping ("Go Down," 346 and "Swing Low," 348) or stories of perseverance ("Keep Your Hand," 347). The United States' government played little to no part in the way of freeing slaves that are talked about in any of these slave songs. Each one focused mainly on running away, as opposed to what the government might have been able to do, which basically included writing useless bills for Congress to pass, putting into effect a rule that says something along the lines of "no more slaves," but those laws do not have as large of an impact on the plantations as the slaves' plans in their songs. As the saying goes, talk is cheap, and that was all that Congress was doing - talking. These songs are the true testament to the unrelenting will people have. Even in the most difficult times of hardship, the slaves were able to sing gracefully about their trust in the ever-loving God ("Swing Low," 348) because they knew they would eventually be led out of the hell they were living by a miraculous spirit, like Paul and Salis were set free by an earthquake ("Keep Your Hand," 347). Nature is also a part of the songs sung by the slaves for two reasons: one, they are working outside, for the most part, in the fields, and keeping their plans under the noses of their owners is important, so relating their work to rivers and fields is first-hand for them; two, the stories of the Bible discuss miracles and amazing feats of nature, such as Moses' leading the Egyptian slaves over the River of Jordan in "Go Down, Moses." America's Dream is not so much important in these songs as it is in many other works during the time period, but the black man's dream is to simply escape through a heroic feat of wit, such as the "breakout" in "Go Down, Moses."

Works Cited

"Go Down, Moses." Glencoe Literature. Ed. Jeffrey Wilhelm. American Literature ed. Colombus: McGraw-Hill, 2010. 346. Print.

"Keep Your Hand on the Plow." Glencoe Literature. Ed. Jeffrey Wilhelm. American Literature ed. Colombus: McGraw-Hill, 2010. 347. Print.

"Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." Glencoe Literature. Ed. Jeffrey Wilhelm. American Literature ed. Colombus: McGraw-Hill, 2010. 348. Print.

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