Harlem Renissance and Negritude Writers Term Paper

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Secondly, even the beginning of the film presents an African motif. The drums that open the scene are representative for the ancient tribal singing and dancing. The same drums are present in Cullen's poetry, revealing a deep African symbol. Moreover, the drums also make the passage from the contemporary life in which the film is first set, to the imaginary and ancient time of slavery.

The characters are as well particularly chosen. For instance, Joe, a white skinned slave is important for pointing out the traditional individual that tries to escape his past, through all means possible. He rejects his mother, who is the embodiment of the African spirit, he worships a white God, Virgin Mary, and in the end, he takes on a position that implies behaving in a similar manner as the white oppressors.

Joe's mother, Nunu, represents in the film the symbol of the African heritage. She stands up for a rebellion against the slave owners as being a true calling of her cultural identity. Similar to Senghor's poem, she intimately tries to confront her implacable existence at the hands of the oppressors and fails to understand the reason why her son, the one she sacrificed herself for, chooses to adopt a different attitude. Senghor's poem develops more on this idea of rebellion against the "white hands" but, at the same time, considers that the warmth of the African soul would eventually determine a sort of reconciliation between the races. In the film however, this idea is not very well conveyed. It is rather more a message that the warmth of the black soul and the determination of the Africans to rediscover their past and cultural heritage will lead them to make peace with themselves and the world they are living in.

The adulation of Virgin Mary as opposed to the traditional African deities is representative for Joe's rejection of not only the African religious identity, but of the entire black Culture, as a means of blending in with the white population. He sees total contradiction between Christianity as advocated by the whites with the rites of the Africans. His ultimate embracement of the values of the White population is the moment in which he takes on a duty to practically act in the same manner as white slave-owners act towards the Blacks. Thus, he reaches the point where he kills people dear to him from his own race, only to find his end tragically.

The finality of Joe's destiny also develops a motif of the black culture, that of purification. In order to find another cultural identity, to build one new, one must be either in peace with the past, or erase it. The purification through fire is emblematic for most cultures and is present as one means of sanctification of an old place and a source of new life. Similarly, Senghor's "White snow in Paris" portrays snow as a means of purification of a world, Paris being the symbol of the European colonization. Both the producers of the film and the writer of the poem stress the theme of purification as being the possible start of a new life.

Overall, it can be concluded that there have been various means through which the advocates of a rediscovery of a Black and African culture presented the idea of going back to the past in order to recreate a future to be the solution for a new African identity. Poets and cineastes alike developed motifs such as the glorious heritage of the African continent in order to justify the desire of the Black people to rediscover their past and built their future.


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Cullen, C. (1928). Harlem Wine. Retrieved 2 November 2007, at http://oldpoetry.com/opoem/52567-Countee-Cullen-Harlem-Wine

Cullen, C. (2007). Heritage.retrieved 2 November 2007, at http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/heritage/

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