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Langston Hughes As Social Person Essay Research

Langston Hughes As Social Person Essay, Research Paper Langston Hughes is considered by many readers to be the most significant black poet of the twentieth century. He is described as і…the beloved author

Langston Hughes As Social Person Essay, Research Paper

Langston Hughes is considered by many readers to be the most significant black

poet of the twentieth century. He is described as і…the beloved author

of poems steeped in the richness of African American culture, poems that exude

Hughes№s affection for black Americans across all divisions of region,

class, and gender.І (Rampersad 3) His writing was both depressing and

uplifting at times. His poetry, spanning five decades from 1926 to 1967,

reflected the changing black experience in America, from the Harlem Renaissance

to the turbulent sixties. At the beginning of his career, he was surrounded by

the Harlem Renaissance. New York City in the 1920№s was a place of immense

growth and richness in African-American culture and art. For Hughes, this was

the perfect opportunity to establish his poems. His early work reflects the

happy times of the era. However, as time progressed he became increasingly

bitter and upset over race relations. Except for a few examples, all his poems

from this later period spoke about social injustice in America. The somber tone

of his writing often reflected his mood. Race relations was the shadow of his

career, following him from his first poem to his last. The tone and subject

matter of Hughes№s poetry can be linked to certain points in history, and

his life. The youth of Hughes is brought out by his poem іHarlem Night

ClubІ, a piece which describes living in the moment. Often children do not

consider the consequences of their actions; they act on instinct and desire.

Hughes might have been 27 when he wrote this poem, but the feisty, upbeat tempo

of a school boy is present in his style. іHarlem Night ClubІ is

unique in that it describes the integration of blacks and whites in an

optimistic tone. The vigor and spirit of his youth is reflected in the energy of

the writing, іJazz-band, jazz-band,? / Play, plAY, PLAY! /

Tomorrow….who knows? / Dance today!І The repetition of the words, and

the increasing emphasis on the word іplayІ bring out the excitement

to the reader. More evidence of Hughes№s youth comes from the very focus

of the poem: the interracial couples. The entire poem can be summed up as

і…a single-glance tableau of interracial flirtation against a background

of heady jazz.І (Emanuel 120) This festive relationship between the two

sexes can rarely be seen in any of Hughes№s later poems. At this point in

his life, Hughes was enjoying the culture and excitement of the Harlem

renaissance. It was an amazing period in New York for African Americans, the

first real large scale expression of their culture. Jazz was a flourishing art

form that Hughes often liked to write about. It is easy to see why most of his

poems of this period (1921-1930) would be festive and cheerful. Unfortunately,

the party didn№t last into the next decade and the country fell into a

deep depression. The period between 1931 and 1940 was a dark period for Hughes,

and for African-Americans in general. On top of the financial difficulties the

depression brought, widespread racism re-surfaced in the North. The celebration

in Harlem was replaced by angry whites who were anxious to put blame on someone

for their troubles. іWhite ManІ is a direct attack on the white

man№s violations against the African-Americans. Like the earlier poem

іHarlem Night Club,І it is a fast-paced, dynamic piece. However, its

tone reflects pure anger and frustration. іWhite Man! White Man! / Let

Louis Armstrong play it? / And you copyright it / And make the money. /

You№re the smart guy, White Man! / You got everything!І Its

intensity makes the reader frantic just from reading it. The line about Louis

Armstrong refers to the great jazz trumpet player, the first black man to be

recognized as a successful jazz artist by a white audience. Only now, ten years

later, we see that it is the whites who profit from his talent. Hughes is

desperate not to forget the accomplishments of the 20№s, and not to let

those accomplishments get taken away by greedy white businessmen. Another attack

on the white world comes in his piece іBallad of RooseveltІ.

Roosevelt is thought of as one of the country№s greatest leaders, a

wonderful humanitarian. But in this poem Hughes reminds us that he did not

always come through with his promises. The poem is written in rhyme and has a

flowing, nursery-rhyme feel. There is a chorus of three lines that repeats after

every stanza. In each verse, Hughes states a problem such as lack of food, lack

of medical attention, lack of money, etc…. And after each problem he says

іI№m waitin№ on Roosevelt, son, / Roosevelt, Roosevelt, /

Waitin№ on Roosevelt, son.І The many impoverished black families in

New York believed in the promises of Roosevelt and trusted that things would get

better. But in Hughes№s poem, the family loses their house, cannot find a

job, and is left abandoned and hungry. It represents yet another case of whites

letting blacks down. This poem shows the growing bitterness in Hughes№s

life. Surely the piece is based on the many black families in Harlem that lost

their houses, jobs and self-respect. Through his writing, he vented his anger.

іThird DegreeІ is a cry against the corrupt justice system in the

1940№s. The poem is a speech made by a black defendant, who is arguing to

a white jury. The term third degree has a double meaning, referring to both the

third degree murder sentence, and also third degree burns. The shame and anger

that the defendant feels can be compared to the blistering pain of a third

degree burn. He won№t admit to a crime he did not commit. The comparison

of shame to a painful burn is most apparent in the last stanza, іWhen you

throw / Cold water on me, / I№ll sign the / Paper…І Only if the

white jury can end the burning shame he feels, will he admit to the crime he did

not commit. Corrupt trials such as this were common in the South during this

time. Hughes makes sure that the atrocities don№t go unnoticed. For

Hughes, it would appear that his life ended on a dejected note. Before his death

in May of 1967, he wrote his final poem іFlotsamІ. The title

suggests that Hughes considers himself forgotten wreckage, and all his writing

is wasted and forgotten. Its tone reeks of depression and self-pity, іOn

the shoals of Nowhere, / Wasted ? my song ? / Yet taken by the sea wind / And

blown along.І Unfortunately, Hughes died feeling as though his writing did

not help his race, and that his legacy was to be forgotten. For his entire life

he had been writing about racism, slavery, and inequality. And yet in this final

poem, even after the civil rights movement had peaked, Hughes is left feeling

worthless. The bitterness he faced during his lifetime built up to a dull apathy

that appears in this piece. Despite the fact that Hughes is і…among the

most eloquent American poets to have sung about the wounds caused by injusticeІ

(Rampersad 3), he thought his poems made no impact on society. On the contrary,

Hughes№s poems had a tremendous influence on African-American society.

Although scholars and critics throughout his career dismissed his poetry as too

іsimple and unlearned,І his primary audience, the black masses, and

even Hughes himself viewed his work as іfolk poetryІ which was

beneath criticism. (Rampersad 4-5) His poems, when studied as a collection over

the span of his life, clearly show how the tone and emphasis in the writing

reflect the mood of Hughes himself as he grew old. The universal theme of racism

and race relations defined all the important work of Langston Hughes.

Emanuel, James. Langston Hughes. Twayne Publishers, Boston, 1967. Arnold

Rampersad. The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. Vintage Classics, New York,

1994.

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