The poem I got assigned this week is “Go Down, Moses” which is actually a hymn. It was first published in the Jubilee Songs (1872) and made popular by the Jubilee Singers of Fisk University.
The two critical approaches that I think could be used to analyze this poem are Marxist and New Historicism. This hymn is an American Negro spiritual and relates events in the old testament of the Bible to what African Americans slaves were going through. Marxist criticism argues that literature reflects social institutions, which it participates in the struggles between oppressed and oppressing classes. Anyone who is familiar with Christianity knows the story of Moses. He freed God’s people from slavery under the Pharaoh. Along with New Historicism, the author probably related to what Moses and his people were going through. The author states “When Israel was in Egypt’s land, Let my people go, oppressed so hard they could not stand, Let my people go” (Jubilee Singers, 1872). Native Americans during the time that this hymn was written probably felt like that of Moses. Israel represents African American slaves while Egypt is the slave masters. Considering American slavery, the sense of “down” meant “down the river” (Mississippi River), where conditions for the slaves were worse. This is a direct correlation to the Bible where it states going “down” to Egypt in the Old Testament. Egypt was lower than Jerusalem so going “down” was presumably going somewhere that was worse.
Marxist criticism I think is the best approach suited for this hymn. It focuses on the struggles of the oppressed and oppressing classes which make up human history. This time during the Old Testament and the time this hymn was written can relate because of the similarities of slavery going on.