Langston Hughes Poems
Analysis Of Mrs. Jones From Thank You, M’am By Langston Hughes
An old lady walks along the street of a dark alley. Suddenly, a mischievous boy steals her purse. Imagine the look of fear in her eyes! In “Thank You, M’am” by Langston Hughes, the same thing happens to Mrs. Jones. During the beginning of the story, Mrs. Jones goes walking down a dark midnight street. All of a sudden, she comes to a boy named Roger with a malicious look. Roger wants money to purchase blue suede shoes although he is found without money. Correspondingly, Roger steals Mrs. Jones’ pocketbook! He then gets taken in by Mrs. Jones for dinner. Roger learns a valuable lesson from her. Mrs. Jones portrays herself as a sophisticated and accepting lady.
To start, Mrs. Jones is very prestigious. Mrs. Jones takes Roger in and notices his face. She blurted, “Um-hum! And your face is dirty”. Mrs. Jones expects more than Roger can give. She doesn’t want him to be that dirty, as that makes him look nasty. Secondly, Mrs. Jones wants to take Roger to dinner but holds back due to how dirty he is. She snaps, “Not with that face. I would not take you nowhere”. Mrs. Jones doesn’t let herself be seen with a dirty looking boy. This evidence proves that she is very sharp and proper. Lastly, near the end of the story, Mrs. Jones gives Roger money to buy blue suede shoes. When she does this, Mrs. Jones demands that he’d never steal a pocketbook ever again. When doing this, she makes herself seem powerful and in control of what Roger does. Mrs. Jones prevents Roger from doing what he did to her to anyone else. For these reasons, Mrs. Jones is very practical.
Not only is Mrs. Jones sophisticated, but she is also very accepting. Mrs. Jones and Roger talk about her past situation. She shares, “‘I were young once and I wanted things I could not get”’. Mrs. Jones puts herself in Roger’s shoes. She understands what he’s been through on a first-person account. Later as Mrs. Jones walks away to her kitchen, she gains trust in Roger and leaves her purse on the couch. Mrs. Jones now had trust in Roger. She accepts his past self and trusts him not to act like that guy. At dinner, Mrs. Jones keeps her thought to herself: “The woman did not ask the boy anything about where he lived, or his folks, or anything that would embarrass him”. Mrs. Jones knows that Roger has a tough home life and background. She accepts this and moves on. Overall, Mrs. Jones is understanding.
All things considered, Mrs. Jones has two major qualities; she is sharp and welcoming. Mrs. Jones shows her personality throughout the story. She teaches the reader an important lesson that the story reflects. Mrs. Jones teaches one that trust gives back. In the story, Roger doesn’t feel the need for anyone to trust him. His opinion changes once Roger meets Mrs. Jones. Roger wants her to trust him after all that happened. Once she trusts Roger, that whole in his fills in. The reader learns this valuable lesson from the book.
A Fight for Freedom in the Light of Poems by Hughes and Larkin
“Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains” is a quote by Rousseau from his book The Social Contract. The opening lines were meant to address an individual’s freedom narrowed by the government, however, the quote is perhaps heavily famous due to its applicability to other perspectives as well. For instance, man is chained to the duties to run his family and even before that man is chained to compete with the world for knowledge. Moreover, Rushdie points out in his essay “‘Commonwealth Literature’ Does Not Exist” that society cannot help but categorize what they cannot recognize or explain on its own, hence, man is chained to the boxes that their literature is perhaps categorized into. In addition to exploring the platforms of war and existentialism in literature in the post-world war era, authors also began to explore the platform of sex and subjects related to sex because man is in fact also chained to his sexual urges in order for his race to multiply. However, the idea of sex is not simply constricted to addressing the importance of love and reproduction. The intention of this paper is to focus on how the authors, Hughes and Larkin, attempt in their poems to contrastively portray ‘freedom’ through God’s way of beginning mankind and mankind defying God’s ways in the new world.
“A Childish Prank” is a part of Hughes’s fourth Volume called Crow published in 1970, or as Brandes has noted to be “Hughes’s most bleak and disturbing volume” (513). Hughes had begun to work on this volume briefly after the death of Sylvia Plath, when he had entered a rather devastating place. He explores the darker parts of his mind and re-tells the Biblical stories of the creation of mankind. In another poem from Crow called “Crow’s first lesson”, the character of crow is seen to be loved as a child of one’s own, hence, God tries to teach the crow to say words as mothers would do with their children. God tells the crow, “‘Say, Love’” (line 2), however, the crow opens his mouth to only spit out creatures that may symbolize danger and death in today’s world. First a white shark, then an african tsetse, and finally the creation of man and woman leaving them all under the same category. Similar to how Blake has questioned through Songs of Innocence and of Experience about how the same world and its mankind that is full of innocent happinesses could simultaneously contain death and destruction, Hughes perhaps also questions the creation of humanity by creating his own myth from the crow’s perspective to cope with the loss of his loved one. The creation of the man and woman had only been partial, hence we see in “A Childish Prank” that God is looking upon his nearly-complete creation as a very important piece of the puzzle which is missing is the ‘soul’ (line 1). “The problem was so great, it dragged him asleep” (line 4) and as God slept, the crow began his mischievousness unlike in “Crow’s First lesson” where the crow flew off in guilt because of his creations in the name of love.
In “Paradise Lost”, Milton too paints a picture of Satan’s occasional guilt from retaliating against the son of God, for example, when he witnesses a glimpse of the mesmerizing Garden of Eden, but soon remembers his mission to deviate Adam and Eve from innocence and take them towards punishment with the consumption of the forbidden fruit. If the crow resembles Satan, then the forbidden fruit is perhaps a man and woman’s sexual urges because the crow cuts the worm in half and transfers it inside the man and woman in such a way that they would feel the urge to complete each other. The “crow went on laughing” (line 20) as if it is aware of the mischievous and impure act that had been directed, yet it is such an act that holds the crow responsible for the creation of the rest of humanity. In an article, however, Maity states that “Crow, although the initiator of sex, didn’t bring the sexual instincts within man and woman on its own- it needed the help of God’s only son-the Worm(Serpent). The Serpent which is traditionally the symbol of death, here becomes the phallic symbol of life” (32). The question remains, who is crow and what is its purpose? Earlier in her article, Maity perceives the crow (although a trickster figure) as a symbol of hope because it is a creature with wings and further states that “crow was created by Hughes to express the idea that even a life of great pain and suffering could still contain an irreducible force for survival” (32). Here, the irreducible force is one’s sexual urges, or in fact one’s missing ‘soul’, in order to keep humanity going in the form of birth of a newer generation. Hence comes Hughes perspective of a fight for freedom: on one hand, man and woman are slaves to their sexual urges but in the bigger picture, the act of reproduction frees mankind of being extinct from the surface of the world.
In contrast to being chained to one’s sexual urges, Philip Larkin takes his readers to the visualization of a time when the newer generation had gained more freedom when it came to engaging in physical relationships, compared to Larkin’s own time of youth when the chances had been narrow. His book of poems, High Windows, was published in 1974 and he speaks of that very era in his poem “High Windows” and many others about how it perhaps became easier for the youth to approach sex and avoid pregnancy by “Taking pills or wearing a diaphragm” (line 3). With these new inventions, Larkin portrayed the newer generation to be living in “paradise” (line 4). Although, most readers may be able to relate when Larkin makes such a comparison, we see in Hughes’s poems the actual struggle that takes place through the invention of the human genitals in the paradise which we know as the Garden of Eden. According to the original myth and the story retold in “Paradise Lost”, on consuming the forbidden fruit Adam and Eve were sent to Earth with responsibilities as a form of punishment which included childbirth for the woman and breadwinning for the man. Although, how would these punishment make sense if the forbidden fruit was not in fact the discovery of genitalia or one’s sexual urges that would lead to the birth of a child and the formation of a family? However, the youth that Larkin addresses in “High Windows” are perhaps breaking free from the punishment that was meant to begin mankind, not the sexual urges itself, with the use of contraceptives. God was absent in “Paradise Lost” when the serpent lured Eve towards her fall, God fell asleep in “A Childish Prank” when he saw a problem with man and woman, almost as if God knew that his absence would lead to the beginning of mankind so that God could come back and allow them to proceed with it in the name of a punishment to maintain control over humanity.
In “High Windows” we see, however, Larkin looking back to his time and wondering if anyone wondered the same about the young him, “ That’ll be the life; No God anymore, or sweating in the dark […] And his lot will all go down the long slide Like free bloody birds.” (lines 11-16). In comparison to Hughes’s image of God sleeping, Larkin says that God is in fact not present at all since it seems that procreation has come under the control of humans, hence, the humanity is breaking free from fear of sex before marriage and the punishment has become a reward. And indeed, Larkin may appear rather envious of the new generation as he too hoped in his time to escape from a conservative society where underneath all the religious values, even for a priest, was perhaps the desire for an active sexual lifestyle. In the final stanza of “High Windows”, we see Larkin being unable to express his feelings any further, but thinks to himself of “high windows: The sun-comprehending glass, And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless” (lines 17-20). One probable meaning of ‘high windows’ could be a window of opportunity that is now far away from his reach, hence, the air is also ‘blue’ which is symbolic of melancholy and beyond this point is nothing. This stanza could also be a reflection of the third stanza where Larkin says there is no God anymore. Saladyga expresses in an article, “What Larkin inevitably arrives at is a compromise between belief in the past and belief in the present” (14) , hence, it is difficult to justify whether Larkin merely expresses his jealousy but rather in a congratulatory way, or if he expresses concern for a world that will soon come to an end with no God to maintain an order of things.
Wood points out in an essay, Larkin and Hughes may be poles apart and yet, like opposite poles, come together with a similarity in their writings (313). He says, “What they share, it seems to me, is a dream of freedom: freedom from other people and from ethics. The dream is represented in Hughes in a series of cruel birds and animals, and […] It is evoked in Larkin in a series of privileged moments or perceptions, untenable (and even, except in imagination, unavailable) remissions from a dreary real” (313). From a wider perspective, as Hughes and Larkin both may have brought about a question on religion in the minds of their readers, they have also expressed great freedom through their perspectives and forms of writing and have perhaps invoked their readers as well to perceive the world through darkness in order to appreciate the light.
A Theme of Compassion in Thank You, Ma’am by Langston Hughes
Did an elder ever call you because of your behavior when you were younger? Or did you make a mistake and someone gave you a second chance?
‘Thank you, ma’am’ by Langston Hughes illustrates an encounter between Roger, a teenage boy, and Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones, an older woman walking home from work late one night. He attempts to steal her purse, but because it is so heavy, and Mrs. Jones is quite stout, he merely ends up breaking the strap instead. She kicks him and grabs him by the shirt, asking if he feels ashamed of himself. Roger admits yes. Mrs. Jones realizes that his face is dirty and his hair disheveled. She asks if anyone cares for him. If he answers ‘no’, she will bring him home with him and tell him that when he is done with him, he will never forget that he has met her. Afterwards, when Roger and Mrs. Jones arrive home, she asks him if he ate. She assumes that he must be hungry because he tried to steal his purse, but instead, he wanted his money to buy a pair of blue suede shoes. When Mrs. Jones tells Roger that he could have asked for the money, he does not believe it.
Mrs. Jones told Roger that he was young and could not afford what he wanted. She admits that she, like the teenager, does very embarrassing things. While eating, she refrains from embarrassing Roger by asking him nothing else about his life; Instead, he talks about her work in the beauty salon of a hotel where she meets women of all colors.
At the end of the story, Mrs. Jones gives ten dollars to Roger to buy blue suede shoes and tells him not to steal her purse or any other, because the shoes bought with stolen money pose more problems that aren’t worth it. When she takes him to the door and wishes him a good night, Roger wants to say more than ‘thank you ma’am’, but he does not think of anything that suits him. When he turns to Mrs. Jones at the door, he can barely get the words ‘thank you’ from his mouth before closing the door. Roger will never see her again.
The central theme of Langston Hughes’s short story ‘Thank you, Ma’am’ is that you have to be compassionate because compassion can bring change. Hughes supports his theme through Ms. Jones’ actions and Roger’s reactions to her treatment. In the story, Ms. Jones shows compassion when Roger tries to steal her purse instead of calling the police then she drags him to her house and, lets him wash his face and eat dinner with her. One of her most insightful and compassionate moments is when he makes the following confession to Roger after stating that he tried to steal his bag so he could buy the suede shoes he wanted: ‘I was young and I wanted things I couldn’t get “. Her greatest and most merciful moment is when she gives him the ten-dollar bill from her purse so that he can buy his shoes and ask him to behave. She does all of these things even though she is evidently very poor, showing us how much she is willing to sacrifice just to show compassion to one equally in need. We will never know how Roger’s life will unfold after this incident.
Biography of Langston Hughes and His Accomplishments
“Hold fast to your dreams, for without them life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly” This is one of Langston Hughes’ most notable quotes, which urges his audience to hold on to their dreams. Langston Hughes was one of the most famous and celebrated African American poets and novelists of the twentieth century. He was an American novelist, poet, social activist, playwright, and a columnist from Joplin, Missouri. When he was younger, he moved to New York City to build his career. Hughes was one of the earliest developers of the new literary art called jazz poetry. He had many accomplishments. One of his major accomplishments was “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”. He won literary awards for his poems, novels, and short stories; founding theaters; teaching at universities, and being a major contributor to the Harlem Renaissance and the appearance African Americans in American literature.
James Mercer Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri on February 1st, 1902 to James Nathaniel Hughes and Carrie Mercer Langston. His parents separated when Langston was young and his father moved to Mexico. His mother traveled a lot to look for work and was not always in his life so he was raised by his maternal grandmother, Mary Sampson Patterson Leary Langston. He had a mixed heritage of Native American, French and African. When Hughes was five, during a trip with his mother he went into a bookstore for the first time and fell in love with reading. That was just the beginning of his love affair with words. After his grandmother’s death in 1910, Hughes lived with his grandmother’s friends, the Reeds, who did not have any children of their own. He got his first job the same year, at the age of eight, cleaning the lobby and restrooms of an old hotel. This experience influenced him later in life, most notably when he wrote the poem “Brass Spittoons.” Around 1914, he went to live with his mom and her new husband and his stepbrother in Lincoln, Illinois. After a year, they moved to Cleveland, Ohio where he attended Central High School and had our successful years. He made honor roll every month and was on the track team and was an editor in the yearbook. When Hughes was seventeen he went to Toluca, Mexico to spend the summer with his father, Jim Hughes. Hughes had not seen his father since he was very little and was really happy about making the trip. But while Hughes was with his father, there was no kind of bond between the two. Jim was a man that was driven to make money, that was cold and wanted to get respect.
During his junior and senior year of high school, Hughes was not as happy living with his father. When his senior year he wrote a poem “When Sue Wears Red” about a girl he had saw during a dance and critics would praise the poem as the first poet to celebrate the beauty of black women. In July of 1920 Hughes went to visit his father in Mexico again and while he was crossing the Mississippi River to St. Louis, Missouri, he wrote fifteen lines on an envelope and dedicated to a black leader, W.E.B Du Bois (1860- 1963) and was called “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and is about the deep and the important spiritual role rivers play or had played in black people’s lives. When the poem was published one year later, it gained a lot of notice as an elegant expression of pleasure in the spirituality and toleration of black people in the world. He continued to write poetry and published it in Belfrey Owl, a famous newspaper and that had already shown the impact of another famous African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar.
In 1921 Hughes’s first major poem was published after he had graduated from high school. Hughes’s poem was published in an African American magazine Crisis and won first prize in other magazines literary competitions. Hughes was only twenty-four years old when his poetry collection “The Weary Blues” was originally published, it won many awards and the money as the prize, Hughes used the money to complete his education in college in Lincoln, Pennsylvania. The poem got sponsored by Opportunity magazines, which was issued by Urban League. “The Weary Blues” ended up becoming an American classic. This piece of poetry was affected by the music he had heard when he was a child. “The Blues” is a style of music growed by African Americans. Both genres of music express deep pain, even though blues usually have a lost or wayward love. In 1926, Hughes published the first Poetry and was noticed for using black themes and jazz rhythms in his work. He continued to publish plays, poetry and short stories. In 1930, Hughes won the Harlem gold medal for literature for his first novel “Not Without Laughter”.
In the 1930s, Hughes put his poetry towards racial justice and political radicalism. In 1930 he traveled to the American South in 1931 and denounced the Scottsboro case; then traveled in the Soviet Union, Haiti, Japan and other places and was a newspaper corresponder (1937) during the Spanish Civil War. He then published a collection of short stories. “The Ways of White Folks” (1934) and then became very involved in theatre. In 1935 he got a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Rosenwald Fellowship in 1941 and in 1943 he received letters from Lincoln University. Hughes was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1946. He also received the Anisfield-Wolf Book award in 1954 and the Spingarn Medal in 1960 for achievement by a black American. Hughes taught at a University in Atlanta and the University of Chicago and Los Angeles.
Hughes had many works. His works included poetry, autobiographies, edited anthologies and plays. In 1931, Hughes published “The Negro Mother and other Dramatic Recitations”, in 1932 “The Dream Keeper” in 1942, “Shakespeare Harlem” in 1942, in 1947 “Fields of Wonder” and “One Way Ticket”, in 1955 “The First Book of Jazz”, in 1958 “Tambourines To Glory”, in 1959 “Selected Poems” and in 1961 “The Best of Simple. Hughes also wrote 3 autobiographies, “Not Without Laughter”, “The Big Sea” and “I Wonder as I Wander”.
Langston Hughes was a very important figure in the Harlem Renaissance. He continued to fight for social justice and racial equality through his work and he also wrote about African American experiences, which went from poetry and plays to novels and newspaper columns.
The Blues of Langston Hughes and His Importance in Modern Poetry
Langston Hughes is a respected and esteemed African American Icon. His poetry and writing created a platform for black artists during the Harlem Renaissance, yet today he is one of the few underappreciated names in modern American poetry. Despite his pivotal role in the Harlem Renaissance, his poetry never receives the respect it deserves among other poets because many feel it dwells too deeply in the specifics of black culture. In addition to race and racism playing a key role as to why he isn’t read as often as he should, powerful critics and scholars often show little interest in black America, and as a result his work is not celebrated in the way it should be. His less political and more obscure blues poetry explores his hidden personal life, a side of Hughes that is often overlooked. These works are excellent examples of how Hughes helped shape the modernist poetry movement.
Hughes is a rather invisible figure in modern poetry, and is talked about very little in the dialogue of modern fiction and poetry. He is usually lumped together with other black writers and linked exclusively to the Harlem Renaissance. A large part of this reason is because scholars feel is work is simple and unlearned. Hughe’s himself even described his poetry technique as being simple, claiming it should be the “epitome of simplicity”. Part of this can been understood as Hughes wanting his work to be understood by a specific audience: the black America of his time. It wouldn’t make sense for him to create work relating to the struggles of African Americans if they couldn’t identify or relate to his work. He used common language and drew inspiration from the everyday lives of black Americans in addition to the hardships they faced in their daily lives. Despite his work seeming simple, his material is complex and layered.
In contrast to his more socio-political works, his love blues poems intimately explore the world of his hidden sexuality. The poems written in between the years 1924-1930 are interesting because they are written using the voices and perspectives of both men and women. A blues poem stems from the African American oral and musical tradition of the blues, usually exploring the themes of struggle, despair, and sex. It often follows the form in which a statement is made in the first line, a variation of that same statement is given in the second line, and a satirical alternative is declared in the third line.
One of his more famous poems “Subway Face” follows this form unequivocally. The first line states “That I have been looking”, the second line follows “For you all my life”. Both these statements are related to one another. The third line declares an ironic and shocking statement with “Does not matter to you” and the fourth line “You do not know” follows. The next stanza follows the same pattern with lines one and two being “You never knew / Nor did I” and the third and fourth line paradoxically stating “Now you take the Harlem train uptown / I take a local down.” To the naked eye this short poem is deceivingly simple, yet underneath there is real emotional despair and desolation buried within the combination of these simple words in simple form. The voice or perspective is ambiguous, and its content is relatable to anyone reader experiencing aloneness.
“Poem (2)” is a glimpse into the world of his undisclosed homosexuality. It reads I loved my friend / He went away from me / There’s nothing more to say / The poem ends / Soft as it began / I loved my friend”. The reason why scholars feel this specific poem gives insight on his sexuality is because it reads from the perspective of a man loving another man and not being loved in return. Again this poem explicitly follows the form of blues poetry, but is more compact and delivers more of an emotional impact on the reader due to its harshness and austerity. Both “Subway Face” and “Poem (2)” explore the hardships of unrequited love. The fact Hughes was a closet homosexual during this time also meant his feelings could never come forward, and in addition to solitude and heartbreak, he struggled with never being able to openly express himself romantically in the way he wanted.
His blues poems not only gave insight on his hidden personal life, but also explored themes of negritude and black beauty. “Poem (4)” dedicated “To the Black Beloved” follows the form of blues poetry loosely, but is nonetheless a celebration of black exquisiteness and identity. The first stanza reads, “Ah / My black one / Though art not beautiful / Yet thou hast / A Loveliness / Surpassing beauty”. He is saying that even though the color of their skin is seen as not being beautiful, they contain a “loveliness” that surpasses and transcends the physical appearance of their skin. The second stanza reads, “Oh / My black one / Though art not good / Yet Thou hast / A purity / Surpassing goodness”. Similarly, he is saying that although black people are not seen as “good” by society, there is a purity and virtue within them. Lastly, in the final stanza he writes. “Ah / My black one / Thou art not luminous / Yet an alter of jewels / An alter of shimmering jewels / Would pale in the light / Of thy nightness”. Here he breaks the pattern of the two previous stanzas to accentuate and reiterate the symbolism of a jewel to an African American. The line “Though art not shining” can be alluded to the constant weight of society oppressing the African American, not allowing them not to “shine” and reach their full potential. He reminds his reader they are jewels that evoke light and brilliance despite the darkness of the skin and the oppression it brings in the line “of thy nightness”.
Langston Hughes openly admitted how much he admired and was influenced by music in his own work. When he was eleven years old, he first heard the blues being played by a blind orchestra in Kansas City. He described the music having “the pulse beat of people who keep on going”. From then he wanted to write poetry in that style. Historically, the lyrics of most blues music is weak on its own because the music is generally given artistic priority. Wanting to write specifically “blues” is difficult as well because there is a balance between not making the written content too poeticized and less like lyrics. Hughes was really the first to combine the two, and allowed this style to convey the African American experience in people’s own vernacular language.
This style is just a scratch of the undeniable and incredible diversity in Hughes’s poetry. His work was embraced by working class black Americans that could finally recognize and relate to a voice in the literature world. He was a unique writer during the Harlem Renaissance because he wrote in ways that deferred from always depicting black Americans optimistically. He wrote of everyday life and everyday people. He often had black characters in his writings that were drunk, lazy, sexual, and violent. He wrote of working class people, and without diminishing his extraordinary work in uplifting black culture in his more political writing, there are countless other themes and topics relatable to all readers of his poetry. Despite writing of everyday working class people, he encouraged black Americans to partake in the artistic activities that separated blacks and whites during the Harlem Renaissance. There was no reason that blacks shouldn’t be painting sunsets or writing sonnets in addition to expressing themselves in historically black traditions like blues and jazz. He is quoted saying: “We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesn’t matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too. The tom-tom cries and the tom-tom laughs. If colored people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesn’t matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves”.
Hughes’s actively advocating for black civil rights shouldn’t be something that separates him from the literary world from discussion of great contemporary white poets and writers like Robert Frost or E.E Cummings. Hughes’s subject matter is far more relatable than some of the topics depicted by white writers of the time, who often separated themselves so far from the everyday person their writing seems like it belongs from a different era. Hughes’s usage of music and jazz meters in his poetry are far more approachable to a wider audience than the complicated pentameters used by other poets. Lastly, the issues Hughes’s so passionately wrote about regarding civil rights issues are sadly still seen today. Racism and police brutality is still prevalent in everyday life, and if there is any poetry to be studied and celebrated during these times, it is his.
Langston Hughes: the Face of the Harlem Renaissance
Langston Hughes’ spectacular flair for poetry began on February 1, 1902 when he was born in the small town on Joplin, Missouri. Through Langston Hughes contribution to poetry, he truly inspired a generation of children and adults alike to follow the meaning in his poetry. He also contributed immensely to the historical time known as the Harlem Renaissance. Hughes is the face of the Harlem Renaissance today and shows kids and adults alike what it was like growing up in Harlem and the African Americans struggle for equality there. The focus will be on his life and legacy, his fight for racial equality, some well-known figures who used his works in their speeches, and his work in the Harlem Renaissance.
As stated previously, Hughes used his gift in poetry to fight for equality for his African-American brothers and sisters. Some famous people who have fought for equality have used his poetry in their speeches. One example is how to face of the Civil Rights Movement in America used his poetry, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His favorite poem to use in his speeches was his poem “Mother to Son.” This is about a mother giving her son a motivational talk about reaching his goals and aspirations in life. This translates to Dr. King’s goal of reaching social equality for African-Americans in the U.S. For example, King used one of Hughes poems by name on June 27th, 1956 at the NAACP conference in San Francisco, California. King read the poem and used it as an example to continue the fight for racial equality. The poem helped give his speech life, a deeper meaning, and left the audience thinking about the meaning of the poem and how it relates to his message. Also, Hughes wrote a poem about King and Rosa Parks. The poem is called “Brotherly Love.” He writes about how he doesn’t want to punish the white citizens of the south who have been harassing him, he wants to “reach out” his hand and live in harmony. He also brings up how he won’t sit in the back of the bus in Montgomery, alluding to the incident that occurred with Rosa Parks. His literature helped show those in opposition to the civil rights movement that all they want is peace and equality for all, as promised to all citizens in our constitution. His works to push for equality also caused backlash. Hughes was brought to a hearing in front of Senator Joseph McCarthy. McCarthy was well known for accusing prominent figures of communism, and Hughes was one of them for his work. So, while fighting for the equality, he put his career at stake and was fearless when presented with these false accusations.
While his writing about race is well known, Hughes’ claim to fame is the Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance was a time in the 1920’s when a huge influx of talent through poetry, acting, singing and more came out of Harlem in New York City shocked the world. Though Hughes was not born in Harlem, he moved there and became intrigued by this talent and decided to get in on it. He wrote about Harlem and what he saw there. However, one story that was particularly intriguing is “Thank You, M’am.” This is a story about a young boy named Roger. Roger did not have a lot of money and was looking to fit in by getting a pair of blue suede shoes. He decided to get them through stealing from a older woman’s purse at night. However, he had run into Ms. Luella Bates Washington Jones. She was not going to go down without a fight. She captured him and took him to her house. She gave him some advice, and then gave him the money he needed to buy those shoes. This gave the world insight as to how these kids in Harlem back then lived. They wanted to fit in. They wanted to have everything the “normal” kids had. These kids were willing to do whatever it took to fit in. However, if you were lucky enough, you would run into someone who might be tough, but gives you life advice that the kids will cherish forever. This was what the Harlem Renaissance was all about. It was people expressing the good in humanity through their sterling works of art.
That is all about Langston Hughes and what he did to contribute to the world. The talented poet used his work to push for racial equality. He used his poetry to give the oppressed in society hope. He wrote about Harlem and the everyday struggles of children there to fit in. However, one trait that gleams from him is bravery. Hughes put his life on the line opposing racism, as well as his career with the communist allegations. He was unflinching, even though his dear friend Dr. Martin Luther King was killed for fighting for the same equality he was searching for. One final example of his bravery is how he moved from a small city in Missouri to New York City and becoming accustomed to their culture. So when looking for inspiration to do the right thing, to use your talents for good, remember one of Hughes’ quotes: “Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.”
Dual Consciousness in Hughes’ Poetry
Raymond Smith once wrote, “Hughes attempted to integrate the two facets of double consciousness (the American and the Negro) into a single vision – that of a poet.” Langston Hughes, possibly the most prominent black American poet, incorporates these complementary aspects of consciousness into his poetry on a frequent basis. The concept of a multi-faceted consciousness is exhibited in his poems through the intertwining of the black perspective into the broader American one.
As demonstrated in his poem “American Heartbreak”, Hughes describes an American issue using themes more common to African-American art. In this composition, the primary expression is that of the American ideal of freedom. The acknowledgement of the existence of a degree of freedom is significant in that it portrays the ability of blacks to express themselves, much as the author is doing in this poem. Contrary to the prevalent theory that America is the land of equality, the speaker recognizes a number of shortfalls of this proclaimed freedom when put into practice. He believes “Freedom / stumps its toe” on the group of people it ignored throughout American history. Although the idea that an individual group is lacking in freedom is not unique to blacks, it is expressed throughout much of their artwork. Hughes also cites a historical event when he refers to “The great mistake / That Jamestown / Made long ago.” This allusion is referring to the foundation of plantations and the implementation of a system that required the subservience of an entire race. This obviously inhibits the presence of freedom for the subjugated people who were deprived of their basic human rights. As such, Hughes is directing a message to America that declares the need for unhindered liberty and for the reconciliation of past grievances.
The poem “Democracy” discusses the lack of freedom and the erroneous methods that were being used to achieve it. He criticizes the fear tactics used to attain democracy by stating, “Democracy will not come… through compromise and fear”. Hughes seems to believe that the governmental system in the United States has been achieved at the cost of the needs and desires of blacks. They have had to sacrifice themselves and their families to build this nation through the subjugating travesty of slavery. The speaker also “tire[s] so of hearing people say, / “Let things take their course. / Tomorrow is another day.”” Essentially, he is condemning those who take a passive approach to the attainment of equality and freedom, both of which are guaranteed to all people by the documents upon which this country is based. He is also promoting the foundation of a true democracy through effort and cooperation between the races. Similar to many blacks, the speaker acknowledges that he does not enjoy the same freedom as other individuals. He makes the plea, “I want freedom / Just as you.” At the time of the composition of this poem, blacks were still feeling the effects of discrimination and oppression. From this, it can be safely assumed that the speaker is a black individual who has experienced this and wishes for equality, as people of all races do. In this manner, he blends the American ideal of freedom with an analysis of it from the African-American perspective.
Offering another form of a dual consciousness, “Refugee in America” combines an American perspective with that of an unidentified refugee, who is not necessarily black. This poem celebrates the principle of freedom as exhibited in America. The speaker states, “on my heart-strings freedom sings / All day everyday.” This individual has such a positive disposition as a result in a change in his circumstances. As a refugee, he has sought refuge from tyranny and oppression in America, where he has experienced liberty like never before. This is amplified by the speaker’s proclamation, “If you had known what I knew / You would know why.” This contrast portrays not only the refugee’s joy at having escaped his past, but also a recognition that most people in America take their freedom for granted. Although the refugee is free from his former reigns, he still wishes to inform the population of the atrocities that occur in the rest of the world. This is analogous to the situation of the blacks through their escape from the yolk of slavery and the subsequent Civil Rights movement, which attempted to educate and persuade people to adopt equality in all aspects of life. By creating a parallel between the refugee and an African-American, both of whom have experienced a form of oppression, Hughes further develops his position.
Langston Hughes, a lyrical master, has managed to compose poetry that represents the complementary viewpoints of the Negro and the American. This assists in the portrayal of his stance that although there is some level of freedom in the United States, it is lacking for some. Whether by discrimination or a sheer lack of opportunities, liberty is not readily available to all those who dwell under the authority of the American government. Hughes acknowledges this and attempts to make a social commentary through his poetry, which also serves to exemplify the black experience in America.
Literary Analysis of the Negro Artist the Racial Mountain
Langston Hughes was one of the most prolific writers of Harlem Renaissance era. Hughes’s works are best known for the sense of black pride they convey and Hughes’s implantation of jazz into his poetry. In 1926, Hughes wrote the critically acclaimed essay, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” for The Nation magazine. In this essay, Hughes scolds artists who shy away from their racial identity to satisfy fearful Negros and white audiences. Hughes’s message to white audiences recognizes their interest in black art for means of stereotypical entertainment. Some of Hughes’s most powerful poems, including “I, Too” and “Freedom,” serve as keen evidence of the blasphemous behavior of Negro artists and white audiences of his time.
In “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,” Hughes speaks of a young Negro poet who has proclaimed he does not want to be an African-American poet, but instead, just a poet. Hughes associates this comment with the Negro poet meaning he would rather be a white poet and a whiter person. Nina Baym cites the evidence of Hughes’s outspoken protest on this matter, stating, “Early and late, Hughes’s poems demanded that African Americans be acknowledged as owners of the culture they gave to the United States and as fully enfranchised American citizens” (Baym 2027). If this is so, it means that the young Negro poet understands the prevalent issue of racism in the United States at that time. This goes to say that the young Negro poet believes that the work of a white person is more easily accepted than that of a Negro.
Hughes wanted African-American artists to show pride in their racial legacy. He recognized that many artists were fleeing from their culture. Most of Hughes’s poems are a result of his own life experiences and encounters with racism. Therefore, Hughes is not ashamed to be an African-American artist writing about African-American culture for an African-American audience. Hughes also uses jazz as a staple of his poems and their connections to African Americans. Hughes states that he writes so many jazz poems because “jazz to me is one of the inherent expressions of Negro life in America” (1512). Hughes’s use of jazz guarantees that the artistic elements of the Harlem Renaissance and African-American culture will be preserved despite Negros that are ashamed or fearful of its power.
Langston Hughes originally wrote the poem “I, Too” in 1925. At this time, America’s society was racially discriminating and the operation of this particular society was backed by its racist laws. In “I, Too,” Hughes sends a simple but strong message in only 18 lines. Overall, the poem demonstrates the courage and strength of a Negro/slave fed up with the way white people treat him. In the first line — “I, too, sing America” — the speaker clarifies that although he is a Negro, he is American and sings the national anthem just as any white man does. In this poem, Hughes speaks for equality and freedom for the Negro just as he does in “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountains.” The poem “I, Too” is proof that no Negro should be ashamed of his race or the products of his race to please white America.
Langston Hughes’s poem “Freedom” was originally entitled “Democracy.” Hughes addressed his views about freedom and democracy in the poem. Hughes states that he does not want to wait for freedom to come to him, and he is bothered by submissive Negros who say, “Let things take their course / Tomorrow is another day.” In his book The Art and Imagination of Langston Hughes, R. Baxter Miller speaks of Hughes’s literary imagination, stating that, “it is the process by which he mediated between social limitation and the dream of freedom” (Miller 2). Hughes was aware of the social limitations placed upon his people, and his poetry became his outlet to have the voice of an activist. “Freedom” and Hughes’s literary imaginations are proof of Hughes’s argument in the “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain.”
Because Langston Hughes was one of the most popular writers of the Harlem Renaissance era, he used that advantage to speak to his people through his work. He also used his position to raise awareness about the issues of the African-American community and to address those who were afraid of progress. Hughes’s works reflect his life experiences and those of his people, and he believed this to be enough to encourage others that the current social status of the African-American community needed to be changed. Hughes did not shy away from the issues others were afraid to discuss. He even took a shot at white America by informing them and his African-American audience that whites only read African-American literature for stereotypical entertainment. Everything Hughes stood for and against is implemented into his poetry; “I, Too” and “Freedom” are good examples, and these particular poems are evident of Hughes’s argument in “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain.”
Baym, Nina. “Langston Hughes: 1902-1967.” Introduction. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 7th ed. Vol. D. New York: W.W. Norton, 2007. 2026-27. Print.
Baym, Nina. “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 7th ed. Vol. D. New York: W.W. Norton, 2007. 1512-13. Print.
Hughes, Langston. “I, Too.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 7th ed. Vol. D. Nina Baym. New York: W.W. Norton, 2007. 2028. Print.
Hughes, Langston. “Freedom.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 7th ed. Vol. D. Nina Baym. New York: W.W. Norton, 2007. 2034-35. Print.
Miller, R. Baxter. “Introduction.” The Art and Imagination of Langston Hughes. Lexington (Ky.): UP of Kentucky, 2006. 2. Print.
The Life and Literature of Langston Hughes
James Langton Hughes is known as one of the most influential and realistic African-American authors of all times (Dace 8). His works still act as a mirror that reflects our society’s morals and opinions that are hidden behind skin deep façades. Born in 1902, to James and Carrie Langton, and brought up by his grandmother due to constant absence of his two parents who later divorced, James admits to have been able to get his inspiration for writing from his moments of pain. Having lived and visited different places both in the Unites States and other continents, James wrote what he believed were the evils experienced in a society and are seldom addressed.
Although Langton Hughes works were phenomenal, he never gained the recognition he deserved due to the timing of his writing, the content and his lack of identifying and adhering to a specific genre.
Hughes is considered to be the voice of the post slavery African-American community that was experiencing racial discrimination and segregation. His focus was mainly on the lives of the poor black people and the struggles they encountered in their daily lives. In his famous article, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and his anthology “The New Negro”, he focuses on the lives of a population oppressed by slavery by a people who preach love and equality before the eyes of an all loving God (De Santis 22). He focused on the freedom that was given to African Americans yet racial segregation and discrimination was embraced (Dace 30). The content of his poem was focused on shaming the lies of the ‘White people’ who at the time wanted to be congratulated for abolishing slavery and not to be condemned for embracing discriminative policies against black people.
The timing of his work was also another factor. Currently, when we look at his work and the rhymes he used, we can hear the voice of a man in need of change and against oppression of his people. We see the struggles that he saw and understand the pain that he felt because he expresses it in raw and pure words ((De Santis 22). Conversely, during the time when he wrote these words, the oppression and discrimination in the society could not allow him enough audience to make his point. He was seen as another angry black man. It was during the time when political and legislative policies had massive and great influence on the literature industry (Rampersad 1079). A time, when people were forced to listen to what was termed as good for them, which in this case did not include radicalization message. It was also a volatile time, when the white people felt like they were losing power to former slaves and the black people wanted to fight for what they termed as equality and end of discrimination. The political arena felt that the best way was not to allow for publication and publicizing of certain articles, poems and books.
Finally, Hughes never really concentrated on one genre. This is mostly because of the influence and exposure he got as he travelled the world. For instance when he started he would use jazz rhythm in his poems which brought him to fame, later on when he went to Asia and visited the Former Soviet Union, his writing changed to more narrative than the previous jazz rhythmic that the people were accustomed to. Yet upon his return to New York, he was involved in the writing and production of plays which is a completely different genre from the two aforementioned. Finally, once he settled and stopped moving, he wrote historical books which made him embrace a completely different genre.
Recognition leads to influence, and it is obvious that several factors downplayed the amount of influence that Hughes might have had had he been properly recognized. Conversely, his works still remain undeniably raw, precise and inspirational as they come from a place of pain, experience and need to communicate a message about humanity and societal evils. The passion expressed in his work remains the same throughout the different genres he explored and has remained unchanged regardless of the time.
The Biography of Langston Hughes
Langston Hughes Thesis: one country into one non-segregated society. The segregation which happened in the U.S.A should serve as a warning and today’s goal should be to keep our society from any type of racial segregation. Following part of the thesis will be dealing with racial segregation which is depicted in Langston Hughes poems.
Like many African Americans, Hughes has complex ancestry. Both of Hughes’ paternal great-grandmothers were enslaved African Americans and both of his paternal great-grandfathers were white slave owners in Kentucky. According to Hughes, one of these men was Sam Clay, a Scottish-American whiskey distiller of Henry County and supposedly a relative of the statesman Henry Clay. The other was Silas Cushenberry, a Jewish-American slave trader of Clark County.Hughes’s maternal grandmother Mary Patterson was of African-American, French, English and Native American descent. One of the first women to attend Oberlin College, she married Lewis Sheridan Leary, also of mixed race, before her studies. Leary subsequently joined John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859 and died from his wounds.
In 1869 the widow Mary Patterson Leary married again, into the elite, politically active Langston family. (See The Talented Tenth.) Her second husband was Charles Henry Langston, of African-American, Euro-American and Native American ancestry. He and his younger brother John Mercer Langston worked for the abolitionist cause and helped lead the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society in 1858. Charles Langston later moved to Kansas, where he was active as an educator and activist for voting and rights for African Americans. Charles and Mary’s daughter Caroline was the mother of Langston Hughes.Hughes in 1902
Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri, the second child of school teacher Carrie (Caroline) Mercer Langston and James Nathaniel Hughes (1871–1934).Langston Hughes grew up in a series of Midwestern small towns. Hughes’ father left his family and later divorced Carrie. He traveled to Cuba and then Mexico, seeking to escape the enduring racism in the United States. After his parents separated, his mother traveled seeking employment, and young Langston Hughes was raised mainly in Lawrence, Kansas by his maternal grandmother, Mary Patterson Langston. Through the black American oral tradition and drawing from the activist experiences of her generation, Mary Langston instilled in her grandson a lasting sense of racial pride. He spent most of his childhood in Lawrence.
In his 1940 autobiography The Big Sea he wrote: “I was unhappy for a long time, and very lonesome, living with my grandmother. Then it was that books began to happen to me, and I began to believe in nothing but books and the wonderful world in books—where if people suffered, they suffered in beautiful language, not in monosyllables, as we did in Kansas.”After the death of his grandmother, Hughes went to live with. family friends, James and Mary Reed, for two years. Later, Hughes lived again with his mother Carrie in Lincoln, Illinois. She had remarried when he was still an adolescent, and eventually they moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he attended high school. His writing experiments began when he was young. While in grammar school in Lincoln, Hughes was elected class poet. He stated that in retrospect he thought it was because of the stereotype about African Americans having rhythm.