Heritage (poem)

Heritage (poem) Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Africa (Symbol)

Africa is both a literal place and also a symbol in this poem. It symbolizes the speaker's heritage, the cultural and religious practices of his ancestors, and black identity.

"Alien-and-Exile" (Motif)

“Heritage” is built upon the construction of a motif that would come to dominate much of the literature produced by the Harlem Renaissance. The "alien-and-exile" motif refers to the feeling that African Americans had about being exiled from their cultural and historical homeland in Africa while at the same time being alienated from mainstream American society. This motif begins in the opening line, "What is Africa to me," and continues throughout the poem as the speaker discovers conflicting answers to this question.

The Budding Tree (Symbol)

The “tree / Budding yearly forget[s] / How its past arose or set" is a symbol that suggests that health and growth may depend on forgetting one's history. Just as the tree forgets the previous year, the speaker may need to forget Africa in order to move forward. Elsewhere he contradicts this idea.

Throbbing Drums (Symbol)

Drums are a symbol of the primal rhythm of African cultures. The drums seduce the speaker into giving up his "civilized" self.

Black God (Symbol)

The speaker suggests that a Black God would be easier for him to relate to because such a God will better understand suffering. This notion overlaps with the image of Black Jesus that appears in the poetry of Langston Hughes and other Harlem Renaissance writers.