Langston Hughes Poems
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.
The Significance of the Double Consciousness Concept to Harlem Renaissance
In W.E.B. DuBois’ The Souls of Black Folk, he introduces two concepts which are key to understanding what life is like for the modern Black American. These concepts are: Double Consciousness, and the Veil. These two concepts are intrinsically linked; to understand Double Consciousness requires understanding the Veil, and vice-versa. Double Consciousness refers to the idea that Black Americans live in two separate Americas: white America— where they are forced to behave according to the social protocol of white America and where they must live up to the expectations non-Black Americans have for Black Americans— and Black America, where there is an entirely distinct protocol. “It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness,” writes DuBois. “This sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” (Souls of Black Folk 885) The Veil represents the cause and effect of Double Consciousness. In his essay, “The Veil of Self-Consciousness”, DuBois says: “Then it dawned upon me with a certain suddenness that I was different from the others; or like, mayhap, in heart and life and longing, but shut out from their world by a vast veil” (“Veil” 1). The Veil is a tangible representation of three intangible concepts, which are: the inability of white people to see past their assumptions about Black people; the inability of Black people to see themselves outside of the stereotypes and assumptions being made about them by white people; and the inability of white and Black people to ever fully connect and work in solidarity, or see one another as equals.
This idea is also explored— although through a different metaphor— in Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem, “We Wear the Mask.” In this poem, Dunbar specifically addresses the internal struggle of a Black American working within non-Black (specifically white) America. “Why should the world be overwise, / In counting all our tears and sighs? / Nay, let them only see us, while / We wear the mask” (1033). In this stanza, Dunbar tells the reader that the veil can be used in the Black American’s favor. This stanza begs the question: why let the cries of the oppressed fall upon ears which are intentionally covered? In Dunbar’s opinion, no good comes from expressing to white people those same things that can be expressed among other Black people. Instead, Dunbar chooses to use the Veil to his advantage. To consciously shift his consciousness to that which white America expects so that his own true consciousness may remain safe underneath.
Not all Black authors, however, agree that living a life behind a mask is ideal. In his poem, “If We Must Die,” Claude McKay directly rails against the concept of shifting his consciousness within white spheres, as a Black man, to better fit in with white society. The poem, “If We Must Die” thematically tells the reader that it is better to die for living genuinely— with dignity— than to assimilate into white culture and die anyway, stripped of dignity. “If we must die, let it not be like hogs / Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot, / While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs, / Making their mock at our accursed lot. / If we must die—oh, let us nobly die, / So that our precious blood may not be shed / In vain; then even the monsters we defy / Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!” (483). McKay, through this poem, maintains the binary of oppressor vs. oppressed (in this case, white vs. Black), but McKay’s concept differs from DuBois’ concept of Double Consciousness because he argues: while this binary does exist— and the Black man must be aware that it does— it is more ideal for a Black man to fully embrace the Black side of his consciousness and band together in solidarity with his Black community to overcome their oppressor: “Oh, Kinsmen! We must meet the common foe; / Though far outnumbered, let us show us brave, / And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow! / What though before us lies the open grave? / Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack, / Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!” (483). He suggests that meekly observing the white ideal of what a Black man must be in order to survive, the Black community ought not sell themselves short because they are fewer in numbers than the white majority, but ought to fight for their right to claim their Black identity.
With this ideal, McKay launched the Harlem Renaissance, inspiring his peers such as Langston Hughes. Like McKay, Hughes writes of the beauty of his Black community, and cautions against allowing oneself to be split into a Double Consciousness, instead valuing the Black man who embraces his Black self and community. Hughes starts his manifesto, The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain, by saying: “One of the most promising of the young Negro poets said to me once, ‘I want to be a poet–not a Negro poet,’ meaning, I believe, ‘I want to write like a white poet’; meaning subconsciously, ‘I would like to be a white poet’; meaning behind that, ‘I would like to be white.’ And I was sorry the young man said that, for no great poet has ever been afraid of being himself. And I doubted then that, with his desire to run away spiritually from his race, this boy would ever be a great poet. But this is the mountain standing in the way of any true Negro art in America–this urge within the race toward whiteness, the desire to pour racial individuality into the mold of American standardization, and to be as little Negro and as much American as possible” (348). Hughes argues that a Black person can never create art that is true to themself unless they embrace their Blackness. Hughes interprets the veil between white people and Black people as a mountain; something to be overcome. This, like the writings of McKay, is in direct opposition with DuBois’ idea that surviving in America requires better assimilating with white culture; or, rather, posits that just surviving is not enough. To thrive in America, to create art, requires doing away with having two separate consciousnesses and, instead, embracing one’s consciousness in its entirety— Blackness and all.
Hughes does not think DuBois was wrong in his writings, per se— in fact, Hughes calls DuBois’ writings “the finest prose written by a Negro in America.” But there is a time for meeting the oppressor where they are at and, for Hughes and his contemporaries in the Harlem Renaissance movement, that time is over. “…within the next decade,” writes Hughes, “I expect to see the work of a growing school of colored artists who paint and model the beauty of dark faces and create with new technique the expressions of their own soul-world. And the Negro dancers who will dance like flame and the singers who will continue to carry our songs to all who listen-they will be with us in even greater numbers tomorrow” (349). For Hughes, the way to dismantle the systematic oppression of Black people is through art. He works towards this goal in his poetry specifically by honoring the musical traditions of the Black community. “Most of my own poems are racial in theme and treatment, derived from the life I know. In many of them I try to grasp and hold some of the meanings and rhythms of jazz. I am as sincere as I know how to be in these poems […] Jazz to me is one of the inherent expressions of Negro life in America; the eternal tom-tom beating in the Negro soul–the tom-tom of revolt against weariness in a white world, a world of subway trains, and work, work, work; the tom-tom of joy and laughter, and pain swallowed in a smile” (349).
At this early point in the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes’ work created a spark of controversy in the Black community of the time, who prescribed to the writings of DuBois and were ashamed of their Blackness. “The old subconscious ‘white is best’ runs through her mind. Years of study under white teachers, a lifetime of white books, pictures, and papers, and white manners, morals, and Puritan standards made her dislike the spirituals. And now she turns up her nose at jazz and all its manifestations–likewise almost everything else distinctly racial. […] She wants the artist to flatter her, to make the white world believe that all negroes are as smug and as near white in soul as she wants to be” (349). The mindset, at the time, was to dispose entirely of the Black side of consciousness and to fully embrace and live with the consciousness that is closest to white; most acceptable to white society. Hughes, however, believed the opposite. He believed Black people should express themselves truly through art and should be able to see themselves, free of flattery, free of wishing to be white; resplendent in their Blackness. “But, to my mind, it is the duty of the younger Negro artist, if he accepts any duties at all from outsiders, to change through the force of his art that old whispering ‘I want to be white,’ hidden in the aspirations of his people, to ‘Why should I want to be white? I am a Negro–and beautiful’” (349). This ideology— that art should express what being Black truly means, and that it is beautiful— runs at the core of the Harlem Renaissance. Hughes’ manifesto was a call to action, and Hughes himself inspired the Black artists who caused the Harlem Renaissance to thrive.
While DuBois made great strides for Black liberation by naming the existing facts of life as a Black man in white America— namely, the idea that two modes of consciousness are necessary to survive in a world where Black people are separated from their white oppressor by a thick veil of prejudice— his theories alone were not enough to set his Black contemporaries on the path towards liberation. Like Dunbar, DuBois cautioned that it is better— safer— to hide behind a mask of what white people want a Black person to look like. McKay and Hughes knew the truths within DuBois’ theories to be true, but argued that safety was no longer the prime directive. They made great strides in shedding light on the oppression facing Black people in America, and did so by making the point that Double Consciousness and the veil must become things of the past. The Harlem Renaissance was a re-writing of DuBois’ theories and a re-writing of the fate of Black Americans. “We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the [racial] mountain, free within ourselves” (Hughes 350). Now— say McKay and Hughes— now is the time for the beauty of Blackness to shine through that thick veil. Now is the time for Black Americans to be seen for that which they truly are: beautiful.
DuBois, W.E.B. “The ‘Veil’ of Self-Consciousness.” Atlantic 80.478 (1897): 194-98. Print.
DuBois, W.E.B. The Souls of Black Folk. 1903. American Literature, 8th Edition. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2012. 885-901. Print. Vol. C of The Norton Anthology.
Dunbar, Paul Laurence. “We Wear the Mask”. 1897. American Literature, 8th Edition. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2012. 1033. Print. Vol. C of The Norton Anthology.
Hughes, Langston. The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain. 1926. American Literature, 8th Edition. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2012. 348-350. Print. Vol. D of The Norton Anthology.
McKay, Claude. “If We Must Die”. 1919. American Literature, 8th Edition. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2012. 483. Print. Vol. D of The Norton Anthology.
Good And Evil In Langston Hughes’ Thank You Ma’am
Langston Hughes’ book written in 1958, ‘’Thank you ma’am’’ is set in Harlem New York during a time that New York experienced rapid population growth. It explores the effects of kindness and trust. A young boy snatches a purse from an elderly woman, but unluckily he fails to take off and is captured by the woman who holds her by the throat. He expects the woman to call the police but the woman offers to take him home, clean him up, feed him, and eventually she offers him money to buy what he wanted. The motive of the boy was to snatch the purse and run not knowing what was in it. The woman later tells him that all he could have done was ask.
The story presents a life in society where people are willing to forgive and help even after being offended. Mrs. Jones does the unexpected by showing kindness to a boy who not only is a stranger but also tried to snatch her purse. It points out that no matter the circumstance people should be given time to explain their story before they are judged. She brings out the morals that most of the time society ignores. She has a past that she is not proud of her but chooses and this pushes her to show Roger ways in which he can do the right thing.
Mankind has different relationships with God. Mrs. Jones appears to know something about God as she tells the boy, ‘’I have done things, too, which I would not tell you son-neither tell God, if he already didn’t know’’. She appears to know God but she is not ready to repent or tell God about her past and things she might have done
The story’s moral as depicted through the actions of Mrs. Jones and Roger is both explicit and implicit. Mrs. Jones tries to teach Roger ways in which he can become morally upright, and explains to him that she had done bad things but in her past. She is trying to tell Roger that no matter how many bad things he has done, he can always change and be morally upright.
The author appears to be keen on repentance though he lets his characters be depicted as immoral people. But he is quick to let the reader know that one can be a very bad person and change to become morally upright. He depicts God as someone supernatural who already knows before they are asked. The author is not religious but he knows God and through Mrs. Jones he tells the writer the importance of repentance.
Langston believes that good and evil are not miles apart. By explaining the crime and making the reader understand that it was out of necessity that roger wanted to steal form Mrs. Jones. He is trying to make us understand that Roger is not really a bad boy but he is only trapped in a very difficult situation.
The author identifies situations where good and evil conflict. Mrs. Jones tries to be good to a boy who had stolen from him. It is human nature that the boy would have been punished or taken to the police. Mrs. Jones takes it to herself to teach the boy the goodness of being honest. She even puts a suggestion to her that she could have asked for the money. Stealing is an evil in society and Mrs. Jones knows that punishing the boy will not help him. Instead he gives him a choice to differentiate between living honestly and stealing.
Langston tries to show that every human has their way of associating with other people in a community. Mrs. Jones chose not to punish the boy and thus it raises the question about how someone else could have handled the situation. He tries to make us understand that many people could have taken him to the police. Roger also expected the same because he asks Mrs. Jones whether she was going to take her to the police.
Stealing is a bad vice that should not be condoned in society. But when Rogers tries to steal from Mrs. Jones and she forgives him and even offers him money to buy shoes, it raises questions on morals and what society is doing towards improving the moral standards. Mrs. Jones connects with the boy and understands his background and offers to help not only by giving him money but by letting him choose between good and evil. He gives him the opportunity to run but he doesn’t. The author has succeeded in bringing the relationship between evil and good to test.
Saved by Jesus in Salvation, an Essay by Langston Hughes
In the short essay Salvation by Langston Hughes, the author describes the time he was “saved” by Jesus. He goes on to explain how he was saved and when he saved and what his family thinks of him now that he is saved. He also states that he doesn’t believe in jesus because he never saw jesus how everyone said he would. He got “saved” to make the church and his family proud.
In the beginning of the story he is at church with other children sitting on the mourners’ bench. They are all sitting there waiting to go to the altar to get saved. As he is sitting at the altar he is starting to see more kids go up to the front because they saw jesus and are no saved. However, it isn’t the same for him, he keeps sitting there and keeps praying for jesus to come save him. Pretty soon there is only two kids left, him and a kid named Westley, Westley gets inpatient and says to him “God Damn! I’m tired o’ sitting here. Let’s get up and be saved” (p98). Westley gets up to go get “saved” but he doesn’t, he sits there and continues to wait for Jesus. As time goes on he realizes he hasn’t seen Jesus and probably isn’t going to, but he ends up going up anyways to make the church and his family proud. That night when he goes home he begins to cry in his bed because he feels badly about lying to the church and his family.
I relate to this short essay a lot. All throughout my life religion was pressured on me and it was something I had to believe in. I was never able to decide for myself if I believed in Jesus or not because it was always pushed on me and to my family I was already a believer and saved. I didn’t decide for myself what I believed in until I was 16 years old at church. Everyone was so excited to be saved and to see Jesus but I never did. So I decided for myself that day and that time and moment that I was not a believer.
The short essay “Salvation” by Langston Hughes was a great story, the way he wrote his story made you feel like you could relate to his story and feel his emotions. While reading this story I could relate to most parts of story, especially when he was in his bed crying because he felt so bad about not lying to his family and church.
Analysis Of The Character Cora From Mulatto By Langston Hughes
The play “Mulatto” by Langston Hughes deals with life in the south in the 1930s. During this time, the system of white dominance over the black race is absolute and uncompromisingly harsh. The play focuses on the father-son relationship between Colonel Tom Norwood and his mulatto son Robert Lewis, a relationship characterized by hate and rejection of each other. Throughout the entire play, the cause of the conflict is the color line, a line that one must cross in order to be accepted and recognized as a human being. The father cannot recognize the mulatto children in the plantation as his legitimate children without forsaking his identity as a white man. This paper will take a deep analysis of the character Cora to examine her life, her sacrifices, her state of mind and her feelings.
Cora’s life has been one of mixed fortunes. On the one hand, she gets some favors because she is the mistress of Norwood while on the other hand, she is regarded as nothing more than a black woman, a nigger. Since moving into the big house, Cora has never had to worry about mistreatment or harsh life in the plantation fields. Gathering from her relationship with Norwood, one gathers that he respects and loves her. As a result, she is able to get preferential treatment that is only reserved for the white folks including living in the main house. However, on the other hand, she is a prisoner of her skin and she has little say on things revolving around her. From the onset, Norwood just sees her as a black person who should be subservient to him. Just like the first time that he lay with her when she was just fifteen years of age, Norwood saw her as a “pretty little piece of flesh, black and sweet”. It is disappointing that despite taking care of Norwood and giving birth to all his children, she does not receive the respect that her position deserves. To a large extent, Cora has sacrificed her individuality in order to protect her children. Throughout her entire life, she has had to live in the shadows of both Norwood and her children so that the children may be protected. For instance, while she does not hate Norwood, it is not clear whether she loves him. She puts her children before her happiness, comfort and fears and she makes all her life-changing decisions with the sole goal of ensuring that they are secured. She says “and I was always ready for you when you come to me in de night”. There is no mention of whether she loved him or not, just that she was ready. She has no other identity other than that of being a mother of four children. She cannot claim to be the wife of Norwood while everyone knows that she takes care of the man and has given birth to all his children. In her major lengthy speeches towards the end of the play, Cora is trying to put words to her feelings, feeling regarding her entire life. She is neither crazy nor in shock. While she initially seems to recognize that Norwood is dead, it dawns on the audience that she is lucid and aware of the fact that he is indeed dead and that all along, she was aware of the sharp difference between the races. For example, she states “… and you layin’ on de floor there, dead!”. This explains that she is aware that Norwood is dead and everyone has run away from him including his children and even his white friends. In fact, Cora further highlights that for a long time, Norwood has been dead to her. As it turns out, since he beat Robert at an early age, Cora had hated him. She observes “after you beat that child, then you died, Colonel Norwood. You died here in this house, and you been living dead a long time”. Hence, as it turns out, Cora has been living with hatred in her heart for a long time after recognizing that the father of her children will never treat then better simply because they are on the other side of the color divide. She communicates her feelings perfectly and at a much deeper level than the audience would have thought she is capable of, thereby demonstrating that she is neither mad or in shock but perfectly lucid and putting words to her feeling.
This paper sought to deeply analyze the character of Cora with the aim of examining her complex life, her sacrifices, and her state of mind. As revealed, she both a lucky and unfortunate woman who puts the safety of her children before everything else. Every major decision and action she has undertaken has been to secure the wellbeing of her children. As the play nears the end, her long monologues reveal that she is lucid and able to examine the issue of inequality between the races at a deep level.
A Review of When the Negro Was in Vogue, a Story by Langston Hughes
The 1920’s in America were a time of change, and that change was shown socially, economically, and politically. This was the time when people in America began to be less concerned with their individuality and more concerned with what we call the mainstream. For the first time in American history people were moving out of farm land and the country and into cities, where they became acquired to new ideas, cultures, and environments. When the Negro was in Vogue by Langston Hughes is a short story that in basic meaning, is about aspects of black culture becoming a mainstream interest for white people. In the 1920’s American society experienced urbanization, new inventions, and shifted away from the traditional norm that society once had. All of these things may seem like great advancements for the country as a whole, but as When the Negro was in Vogue explains is that just because non-minorities became accustomed to black culture, little to no advancements were made in tackling segregation and black people receiving the liberties they deserve as free American citizens. When the Negro was in Vogue shows a different side of the roaring twenties and revolves around one main theme, being that it is human nature to use people to benefit personally and lose respect once a person gets whatever he or she may have desired.
The black culture being studied and remembered from the 1920’s relates to The Harlem Renaissance, which is also remembered as the New Negro Movement. During this period over 6 million African Americans moved to the northern part of the country in search of new lives and a chance to live in a less hostile and racially driven environment that they experienced in the south. With them they brought new forms of music, literature, and other new talents that would become so appealing to non-minorities that African Americans finally felt that they had a reason to be shown respect and could prove their place in American history.
The problem is that even after society established African Americans could often have a great amount of creative talent, segregation wasn’t outlawed and if an African American wasn’t known nationwide for their talents, not a lot seemed to have changed for them. By this time white people had turned Harlem into their very own city to experience black culture. Blacks were invited in jazz bars and clubs, but only to entertain whites. Hughes writes, “White people began to come to Harlem in droves. For several years they packed the expensive Cotton Club on Lenox Avenue. But I was never there because the Cotton Club was a Jim Crow club for gangsters and monied whites.” (P. 5) Tsahai Tafari of PBS.org describes Jim Crow laws in an article as, “A system of segregation and discrimination that barred black Americans from a status equal to that of white Americans. The United States Supreme Court had a crucial role in the establishment, maintenance, and, eventually, the end of Jim Crow.” (P. 1) If the 1920’s were known as such a great and progressive time and white people were beginning to enjoy black talents more than ever before, then why wouldn’t the two races be able to get along and drink from the same water fountains?
Langston Hughes takes his readers through just one of the many experiences African Americans had with getting a glimpse of what it would be like in a peaceful nation but losing that glimpse after a short period of time. Hughes writes, “The Negroes said: ‘We cant go downtown and sit and stare at you in your clubs. You won’t even let us in your clubs.’ But they didn’t say it out loud- for Negroes are practically never rude to white people. So thousands of whites came to Harlem night after night, thinking the Negroes loved to have them there.” (P. 6) The main thing Hughes is trying to get across in When the Negro was in Vogue is that the 1920’s may have been seen as a completely different generation to the African Americans of Harlem than to the white people who and majority of people perceive the 1920’s. The title of the story tells a story in itself. Instead of calling it When the Negro Was in Vogue, Hughes could have called it when white people disrupted the predominately black city of Harlem because it was popular thing to do, but showed no interest in any other black areas or black people outside the city of Harlem.
When the Negro was in Vogue could be read over many times by an individual before he or she recognizes what Langston Hughes intends to be the big picture. While white people invaded Harlem, turning black establishments into establishments of their own, and beginning to take interest into a small amount of black culture, the black people of Harlem were being used. Hughes tells a story that subliminally makes it clear that his opinion on The Harlem Renaissance is different from how it may be taught in the history books. While many people think The Harlem Renaissance made strides in defeating segregation, it didn’t because as Hughes makes clear, the whit people didn’t care about the talent of black musicians, poets, and artists. They simply were using the hard work and talent of the colored people of Harlem to sooth their ears and entertain them, and when people woke up the next morning, blacks were still unable to use the same restrooms as whites and were forced to sit in the back of bus’s. Hughes sees The Harlem Renaissance like this because of the proof backing it up. Joshua Rothman of TheAtlantic.com wrote an article describing segregation in the 1920’s. When mentioning the Klu Klux Klan, Rothman writes, “By 1925, it had anywhere from 2 million to 5 million members and the sympathy or support of millions more.” (P. 6) It’s no wonder why Hughes views The Harlem Renaissance differently than some people. While we emphasize the rise of black culture and how great it was in the 1920’s, When the Negro was in Vogue shows the viewpoint of an individual who is the one that is supposed to be being celebrated. This text shows that The Harlem Renaissance was a good thing, somewhat, but didn’t benefit everyone and shouldn’t ever be known as a time where blacks were celebrated. If black culture was truly being celebrated it wouldn’t have taken forty years for Jim Crow laws to be abolished and non-minorities would value black people for more than just the talents that is deemed entertaining to white people.
Langston Hughes’s “The Negro Artist and 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.”Works CitedBaym, 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.
A Look at Point-of-View and Reader Placement in “I, too” and “Douglass”
During the Civil Rights Movement, Langston Hughes and Robert Hayden each wrote poems addressing the future of the movement. Two of these poems, which expressed their hope for the future and for the equality of black Americans, were “I, too” by Hughes, and “Douglass” by Hayden. While both poems address the brighter, better future, they arrive there in different ways. Both poets use very specific tones and voices for their poems, creating two very different experiences for the readers to arrive in the same liberated future. Hughes’ first-person directed poem creates a much more immediate sense of the future, and creating a personal emotional reaction to oppression. The degree of removal in Hayden’s poem, however, allows the poem to be more abstract and passionate, read as an emotional response rather than inspiring emotional responses.Hughes’ poem “I, too” is written in the first person, inviting the reader into the position of the “I”, to experience the emotional journey of the narrator. “I”, who is revealed as the “darker brother” (ln.2), desires a better place in the future. This is not a distant future, but one that he imagines grasping “tomorrow” (ln.8). The immediacy is shown through the seemingly small-scale victories in which the narrator defines this better future. The narrator uses the dinner table as his indicator for having achieved the equality he desires. The smallness of the event also allows for more personalized emotions to seep into the voice of the poem. The narrator is frustrated and angry, as he “dare[s]” (ln.11) anyone to send him away from the table tomorrow, and imagines how “ashamed” (ln.17) those who have been sending him away will feel for having done so. They will feel ashamed, for having denied the “beautiful” (ln.16) and “strong” (ln.7) narrator, Hughes’ black America the right to join them. The narrator’s strength comes from having survived oppression, and it is with this strength that he will be uplifted into equality, using fear and defiance to overcome his oppressors. The poem hopefully continues that hopefully, one day, the narrator will not be seen as an equal through fear and force, but will be accepted as an equal through the sincere regret of others for having oppressed him.In the end, the narrator, and black America, comes full circle, but grows during the journey. When he begins, he “sing [s] America” (ln.1). He yearns for America, and he has the voice of America, a man of the poor, huddled masses. At the end of the poem, his future has not been realized, but he imagines it, he can see it, can almost grasp it. And with this future in reach, this equality and liberty and freedom, he no longer simply yearns for America. He comes to the realization that his struggle, and his power to overcome, means that he “[is] America” (ln.18). Hayden does not use a first person narrator in his poem “Douglass”, but writes his poem like a Romantic outburst of feelings. Since the reader is not given an identity, an “I”, he must imagine being a maybe of an audience whom Hayden is addressing. When Hayden writes “ours” into the first line, he sets up the oratory tone, and immediately creates a distinction between himself and the reader; a distinction which is absent in “I, too”. The “ours” is telling us that this poem is not specifically about us. It is not any single point of view, but it is about a people, a race, claiming liberty for themselves. Unlike Hughes’ poem, “Douglass” is not driven by the actions of the narrator, but it is driven by the passion and emotion of the speaker. “Douglass” is not emotional on the personal level that Hughes’ poem is, but, rather, is emotional in a removed manner. Emotion is conveyed through Hayden’s impassioned definition of equality and liberty. Hayden begins his poem with a definition of what Liberty really is; it is “this beautiful / and terrible thing, needful to man as air, / usable as earth” (ln.1-2); it is only real when it is “truly instinct” (ln.4), as passively present as blood flow, thoughts, and reflexes, unlike Hughes’ liberty, which the narrator imagines can be achieved by force. When liberty becomes second nature, says Hayden, then it is time to thank Frederick Douglass, the abused, oppressed man who envisioned this future when it seemed impossible. The passionate voice of Hayden’s poem is desperate, lost in its need for freedom and liberty. Since the voice is not the singularized voice of Hughes’ “I, too”, we are left struggling with it, fitting it into our own lives in a removed manner, yet feeling just as anxious for liberty. The poem seems to fall over itself with desperation and respect. The prose-like style is complicated by long sentences and abrupt line breaks. Ideas break into each other, as though out of breath and racing to get somewhere where breathing is possible. The chaos of the struggle to understand liberty and understand where the idea of liberated black Americans comes from is communicated through an abundance of commas, semicolons, and colons. The reader tumbles along with them, looking for the real end, given only consolatory pauses, but never the true ending we want. The real stopping point occurs at the end of the first sentence of the two-sentence poem. After racing to tell us about freedom and liberty, to tell us about Douglass, and to tell us about what will happen when freedom is here, we are finally given a period. It is in this period that we are meant to imagine that the chaotic journey toward the future is completed. A single sentence follows: “Oh, not with statues’ rhetoric, / not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone, / but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives / fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing” (ln.11-14). This last piece of the poem, this hindsight from a future where liberty has been achieved, is calm, and reflecting on how to be thankful to Douglass for having given us the idea to dare to dream what seemed an impossible future. The tranquility of this sentence compared to the previous one embodies the idea of what the nature of our thankfulness should be: that the most appropriate thankfulness is simply living in a liberated lives. How a reader’s identity is fit into a poem changes how the poem will affect the reader. When reading and enacting Hughes’ poem in first person, the reader is involved in the actions of the poem, concerned about the seemingly small factors in the allegorical narrator’s life. We experience easy emotional shifts, feeling anger and frustration at simple commands, and satisfyingly defiant in “dar[ing]” (ln.11) our oppressors to attempt to command us again. In Hayden’s poem, the reader is much less involved in the action of the poem, so the emotion is guided by the intensity of diction, structure, and flow. However, despite the difference of the methods of affecting the emotions of the readers, both poems achieve a similar goal: both poems show the reader a potential future of equality and liberty, and both poems make the reader yearn for it. This better future is possible. ‘Here it is,’ say both poems, ‘it is beautiful. This is what you want.’
Langston Hughes and the Double Consciousness
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.
Rot and Decay in ‘Harlem’
Why do we mourn humans, but not unrealized dreams? ‘Harlem’, a poem by Langston Hughes, is a lament for the lost dreams of African Americans living in the United States in the first half of the 20th century. Literally, the poem focuses on the decaying process of a deferred dream, while figuratively, it delves into the depth of the consequences of putting a dream on hold due to racist beliefs. The form of the poem follows a stanzaic structure, consisting of four stanzas of varying number of lines. Langston Hughes employs powerful imagery in his poem ‘Harlem’ in order to depict the evolution of black American sentiments in the years prior to the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. The poet utilizes images of rot and decay to explore the process of loss of hope and growth of frustration that black Americans underwent during this time.
Structurally, the poem is significant, as the way each stanza is arranged aids in the creation of a tone of self-restraint that allows for the poem’s powerful culmination to achieve its full impact. The poem’s structure is stanzaic, comprising of four stanzas with differing number of lines. The most significant feature of this structure lies in the spaces between these stanzas. The spaces that antecede and follow the third stanza, where Hughes writes: “Maybe it just sags / like a heavy load.”, for instance, are notable because through them, the poet compels the speaker to a stop. In slowing the narrative, Hughes portrays the speaker’s attempts to calm itself down after an almost violently charged stanza, in which he describes the transformative decaying process of the dream. This has a strong effect on the tone, as it mimics the speaker’s struggle to accepts its fate and bear the burden of having dark skin silently, thus showing the admirable self restraint of black Americans. More significant, however, is the impact this has on the single line of the last stanza. The already powerful meaning behind the words: “Or does it explode?” is made that much more potent by how inevitable it is. Although the speaker clearly tries to remain composed and accepting, it cannot help but pronounce these last threatening words. This is suggestive of the riots, protests and other violent events that took place before the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, which were arguably the unavoidable response of the black American population to decades of structural oppression and suffering. It is most probable that this poem, given the title ‘Harlem’ and the author’s background, refers specifically to the Harlem Riot of 1943, which took place after a white police officer shot an African American soldier by the name of Robert Bandy. This withering ability of the black people of Harlem to remain peaceful in the face of so much injustice is reinforced through the literal and figurative meaning, which reflect on the decomposition of a deferred dream.
Literally, the poem explores several instances of rot and decay, while figuratively, the poem creates a very strong representation of the consequences of unrealized dreams. The literal meaning of the poem is focused on answering the question posed in the first line of the poem: “What happens to a dream deferred?” through a comparison with different commonplace examples of decomposition. After asking whether this deferred dream dries up “like a raisin in the sun” or “fester like a sore”, Hughes wonders in the fifth line of the second stanza: “Does it stink like rotten meat?”. The poet employs simile to equate deferred dreams with the traditional image of putrefaction of meat that has gone bad. This is relevant, as it suggests that a dream, similarly to meat, once postponed, left out in the open and vulnerable to the world’s corrosion, can never be recovered, as it is now corrupt and beyond repair. The effect this has on the portrayal of the process that led to the emergence of the Civil Rights Movement is significant, as it introduces the depth of the loss of the African American community; they were not only robbed of realizing their dreams and hopes in the present, but also, much more tragically, of the possibility of returning to those dreams and hopes once their current circumstances had changed. Figuratively, the poem furthers the portrayal of the dire results of the deferral of a dream. In lines 1 and 2 of the second stanza, where Hughes writes: “Does it dry up / like a raisin in the sun?”, the poet describes the consequences of the postponement of a dream through the comparison of deferred dreams with dried up raisins. This simile is notable, as raisins are the product of dried up grapes which are conventional symbols of fertility and prosperity. The effect this comparison has on the thematic axis of the story is significant, as it solidifies the theme of loss that is hinted at in the first line of the poem, and will be further developed later on. By likening deferred dreams to grapes which become raisins in the sun, the poet is arguably referring to the unrealized potential of these dreams, which once could have led to so much. Perhaps the sun is representative of the United States, who instead of taking advantage of the thoughts and ideas contained within the dreams of African American people, rejected them, making it impossible for them to become reality.
Langston Hughes utilizes a collection of images of deterioration to explore the progression of the general black American sentiments, which turned from hope in the years leading up to the Civil Rights Movement era, to frustration and anger. These images are mostly found in the second stanza, and are a response to the opening line, where Hughes puts forward the rhetorical question upon which the whole poem is based: “What happens to a dream deferred?” In lines 3 and 4 of this stanza, Hughes writes “Or fester like a sore / And then run?”, alluding to the sense of sight and tact to create a powerful image of decay. This is notable, as in appealing to the reader’s senses, the author is able to more clearly communicate the arduousness of the process of loss of hope and growth of frustration that African Americans experienced. Readers perceive the inflammation of the wound of racism on a physical level, and are disturbed by the impactful illustration of blood and bruises. The effect this image has on the audience is eye-opening, as they can more easily empathize with the bursting frustration of African Americans who were once so full of dreams, but whose hopes turned rotten because of the way they were treated in the land that had promised them freedom and opportunity. For those who have never been victims to racism, it could prove hard to understand how it feels, but Hughes masterfully manages to overstep this rift between the audience and the speaker by appealing to the universal experience of physical pain.
“Harlem” by Langston Hughes is a powerful poem that delves into the tragic consequences of racism, and masterfully depicts the deteriorating process of a population who has been robbed of the possibility of making their dreams come to pass. The poem is notable in the poet’s use of powerful imagery of rot and decay that aids in the portrayal of the evolution of African American feelings in the years preceding the birth of the Civil Rights Movement. In ‘Harlem’, Hughes has created a poem that not only bears witness to the history of his people, but also compels those who may not have been directly affected by it to experience a semblance of what African Americans suffered.