Monday, February 14, 2011

Realism Project- "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," "Go Down, Moses," and "Keep Your Hand on the Plow"

"Go Down, Moses," Keep Your Hand on the Plow," and "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" are all spirituals said to have been sang by, most commonly, enslaved African Americans ("Three" 344). Passed down orally over many troubled years and generations, these songs were called "sorrow songs" and were sung during hardships as the African Americans suffered through their slave years ("Three" 344). Extremely spiritual although vaguely depressing, these songs often referred to the Bible in the sense that the good Lord had a plan for them and they would eventually be saved ("Three" 344).

In "Go Down, Moses," a story from the Bible is repeatedly referred to ("Go" 347). In the Bible, a story is written about how Moses fought to free his people; he would not let anything stand in his way and continuously told his brother, the king, to let his people go. Moses also parted the Red Sea, which allowed his people to safely cross and killed the army trying to stop him. This is a common Bible story that has been passed down over generations and generations, and it is what this sorrow song is about. This song was most likely sang by the enslaved African Americans to give them hope; if God freed those people, then surely he would free them. By repeating after each verse "Let my people go," it is obvious that the slaves were focusing themselves on that one day in which they, too, would be "let go" ("Go" 347)

"Keep Your Hand on the Plow" was a folk song that, too, was meant most likely to inspire the slaves and keep them focused on being freed one day. In the song, they are singing about how they must work hard and it will be paid off; different conflicts are mentioned from the Bible, as well as how they were peacefully and happily resolved ("Keep" 348). Again, this is most likely meant to inspire the African Americans in their extreme times of trial.

"Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" shares the common theme. This song, too, refers to the Bible and the Jordan River, in which the Jews had to cross in order to be freed in the book of Exodus ("Swing" 346). This song, a kind of haunting work of literature, again refers to the day in which they will be saved and brought back home ("Swing" 346).

Personally, I do not necessarily see the Realism in these passages. I definitely note the Regionalism, since each passage describes the dialect, culture, and setting of their area and time period (Werlock). Naturalism can also be observed, as the less fortunate and poor individuals were focused on; the slaves were definitely not considered middle class, but instead were the lowest class imaginable at the time (Giles). However, I think these songs were too based on God to be considered Realism; in the Realism time period, authors tended to be more focused on factual information as opposed to beliefs and spiritual related mindsets (Diamond). While these passages do describe, very realistically, the conditions and occurrences that were common in the lives of many, God was too much of a factor for it to really be considered true Realism (Diamond).


Diamond, Marie Josephine, ed. "realism." Encyclopedia of World Writers, 19th and 20th Centuries. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2003. Bloom's Literary Reference Online. Facts On File, Inc. GEWW480&SingleRecord=True (accessed January 28, 2011).

"Go Down, Moses." American Literature. Comp. Jeffrey D. Wilhelm. Columbus: McGraw Hill, 2009. 347. Print.

"Keep Your Hand on the Plow." American Literature. Comp. Jeffrey D. Wilhelm. Columbus: McGraw Hill, 2009. 348. Print.

"Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." American Literature. Comp. Jeffrey D. Wilhelm. Columbus: McGraw Hill, 2009. 346. Print.

"Three Spirituals." American Literature. Comp. Jeffery D Wilhelm. Columbus: McGraw Hill, 2009. 344. Print.

Werlock, Abby H. P. "regionalism." The Facts On File Companion to the American Short Story, Second Edition. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2009. Bloom's Literary Reference Online. Facts On File, Inc. Gamshrtsty0581&SingleRecord=True (accessed February 13, 2011).

No comments:

Post a Comment