This is a literary analysis of the poem “Heritage” by Countee Cullen. During the 1920's African-Americans were faced with many problems. The motivation behind the poem was the post reconstruction Harlem Renaissance time period of the African Americans. According to Dubois, black Americans constantly battle a sense of being torn between two cultures caused by their "two-ness" that was only kept from being torn asunder by strength of character. African Americans have had the “sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others" Dubois 1:3). In the poem “Heritage” Cullen expresses the battle of the love and hate of Africa an unknown place for the Negro, which reflects the identity crisis experienced by postcolonial black people. The main idea in this paper is expressed through biblical allusion historical allusion, and metaphors.
In “Heritage” Cullen uses historical allusion in line sixty and seven when he says: “one three centuries removed from the scenes his fathers loved”. The Negro has no love for Africa but he’s giving the speculation of what it means to him even though it’s an unfamiliar place to the Negro. This is shown in his constant repetition of the question, "What is Africa to me?”. He’s speculating about Africa. African people have been enslaved for over three hundred years. He begins to talk about the “spicy grove, cinnamon tree”, but all of the major literature on Africa before the time of the Harlem Renaissance was the same. Africa was perceived as a Dark Continent and America as part of western civilization which provides the generalized clash that shapes African American representations of Africa during the Harlem Renaissance.
Cullen then expresses biblical allusion throughout the poem because there is a clash between “heathen” Africa and the “Christian” west that the speaker has tremendous difficulty reconciling. Though he has been born in the West, as a descendant of Africans he is nonetheless a child of nature, one who is led to “doff” his Christian, civilized ways and dance wildly whenever it rains. His heathen emotional dispositions, he maintains, make it hard for his “heart and head” to realize that “they and he are civilized.” He also expressed biblical allusion very clear in stanza ninety three he say: Father, Son and Holy Ghost, so I make an idle boast; Jesus of the twice turned cheek, He expressing that you can only serve one God and that Jesus is a forgiving God. He accepts us all as we are. Cullen then goes on to say; “Must my heart grows sick and falters, wishing he I serve were black”. When Cullen looks at God he sees a blue eyed man that he has grown angry and bitter with: he sees God as a white man. He feels that if God were a black man he could serve him full heartily.
Cullen uses metaphors and extended metaphors massively throughout the poem to express his confrontation with his identity and his extreme emotion of anger. He says: “Night or day, no slight release from the unremitting beat made by cruel padded feet walking through my body’s street, up and down they go and back”. He’s describing the anger he feels and that’s traveling through his body. He also is