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But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. Source

What does the bolded sentence mean? I assume it means the Negro in general are poor and in poverty? But I do not understand "in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity".

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The sentence uses symbolism to make a point.

  • "material prosperity," which is obvious, represents the opportunity available in the United States, specifically in terms of material wealth (money, property, possessions).

  • A "vast ocean of material prosperity" symbolizes the amount of prosperity and how easy the access is. Oceans are large and seemingly available to everyone. Seen from a beach, an ocean often looks endless. So, too, the potential for wealth available to those in the United States.

  • A "lonely island" symbolizes the idea that the island is the only island, a fluke, something that shouldn't happen.

Therefore, the sentence symbolizes the idea that the Negro is unusual, an aberration, denied the endless benefits available to all others.

And for the record, the author is using hyperbole: a form of exaggeration to make their point. There is a lot of poverty in the United States among all races and ethnicities of people and the ocean of material wealth is, for most citizens of the country, quite a bit more like a pond filled with many islands. But in a land of free speech, no one should deny anyone the opportunity to point out a very real problem — even if they're stretching the truth a bit to identify it.

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    Well written! Thanks for pointing out that the sentence used symbolism, I didn't see that! I will wait a few days before accepting this answer :)
    – DialFrost
    May 31, 2022 at 2:02
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According to the context of the paragraph and sentence, it should mean

The Negros are still poor 100 years later and in poverty (lonely island of poverty)

The Negros are poor amongst the many richer people (midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity)

I think this paragraph demonstrates how there is a lot of opportunity for the Negros to earn money, but them being slaves has prevented this. Does anyone have an alternate view to this?

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