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26 pages 52 minutes read

Paul Laurence Dunbar

An Ante-Bellum Sermon

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1895

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Symbols & Motifs

Moses

Throughout “An Ante-Bellum Sermon,” Dunbar invokes the story of Israel’s liberation as found in the Book of Exodus, and he particularly emphasizes Moses and Pharaoh. According to the Book of Exodus, the Israelites were slaves in Egypt for hundreds of years and had grown so numerous that the Egyptians feared an uprising. To prevent a revolt from happening, the Egyptian ruler ordered all Israel’s newborn male children be killed. Only the infant Moses was saved when his mother floated him in a basket down the river, where an Egyptian princess found him. Adopted by the princess, Moses lived as a prince of Egypt before killing an Egyptian overseer assaulting a Hebrew slave. Having angered the Pharaoh, Moses fled Egypt and was ultimately chosen by God to return and free the Israelites from slavery. With Moses as his mouthpiece, God sent 10 plagues against Egypt until the Egyptian Pharaoh released the Israelites. When Pharaoh changed his mind and attacked the freed slaves, God saved his people by parting the Red Sea for them to cross and by drowning Pharaoh and his army in that same sea.

The frequent allusions to Moses in the poem are incredibly significant. According to scripture, Moses spoke for God and performed God’s will, which was to free his persecuted race.

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