Langston Hughes Essay, Research Paper
Langston Hughes: Poetry to the People
I had been a writer who wrote mostly because, when I felt bad, writing kept me from feeling worse; it out my inner emotions into exterior form, and gave me an outlet for words that never came in conversation.
During his lifetime as the “poet laureate of Harlem”, Langston Hughes also worked as a journalist, dramatist, and children’s author his poems, which tell of the joys and miseries of the ordinary black man in America, have been widely translated. In the 1950s and 1960s, Hughes’ work included a volume of poetry, “Montage of a Dream Deferred” (published in 1951), a collection of short stories, “Laughing to Keep from Crying” (1952), and the play Don’t You Want to be Free (1938), which deeply illustrates growing up African American in the United States a man to write of such things. Many people question what truly
inspired/influenced Hughes and his work. Hughes traveled extensively throughout the nation during his career, and during these travels, he encountered numerous people from different aspects of the African-American society. The daily African-American struggle that Hughes witnessed and experienced influenced him to portray “black life” in his poetry, in using Langston Hughes’ autobiography, I Wonder as I Wander and Martha Cobb’s essay: “Langston Hughes”, this influence will become evident.
Hughes grew up in a middle class family and had a difficult lonely childhood due to his parents’ divorce and his division of loyalties. When Hughes was a child living with is father in Mexico, he escaped many of the segregation issues that prevailed in the United States. However, Hughes returned to the states as a young man and lived in the then segregated Washington, D.C. (Cobb 103). Hughes saw this division as forcing the African American race into second class citizenship. This view of citizenship motivated Hughes greatly and he moved to New York City where he became involved in the black art movement known as the Harlem Renaissance.
The Harlem Renaissance was a movement that encouraged the “rebirth” of the black race. “Renaissance leaders
to create a “New Negro” one who would attend concerts and Operas and would be economically and socially prepared to enter an ideally integrated American Society” (Floyd 4). Hughes traveled throughout the nation during his life and he witnessed the second class citizenship of people. Hughes wrote poetry not only about his life, but also about the lives and situations of people that he saw on his journey. These travels led Hughes to write poems such as “Cross” and ” I Too, Sing America”. In the poem ” Cross” Hughes speaks of the struggle of a mulatto child being torn between being neither white nor black. In this poem, Hughes speaks of how having a mixed racial heritage can confuse and create bitter self-doubts (Cobb 108). In the poem Hughes writes:
My old man died in a fine big house.
My ma died in a shack
I wonder where I’m gonna die,
Being neither white nor black (9-12)
This poem raises a racial question that was prevailing to the mulatto society of the time. Hughes saw the mulatto struggling to decide whether to “racially” be seen as white or black. This duality in life inspired Hughes.
Then, he turned it into poetry. When Hughes writes “My old man’s a white old man/?My old man’s a big fine house” (1,9) he is saying that being white got him a nice house that he lived in. Later in the poem he writes, “My old mother’s black/ ? My ma died in a shack” (2, 10). He is injecting the notion that race is linked to living conditions. Then, Hughes imposes that great question that faced the mixed race person of the time when he says, “I wonder where I’m gonna die, /Being neither white nor black” (11-12). This is a perfect example of how Hughes’ poetry makes the reader or listener think. The question is raised when you are torn between two worlds, where do you belong. Hughes stated in his book I Wonder as I Wander, “This poem, delivered dramatically would make anybody, white or black, sit up and take notice” (59). This statement is quite true sense it is a question that many people of a singular race do not think of on a regular basis.
Hughes was viewed as a positive writer during his time period. As John Spencer states in his book, “[Hughes] treated blackness or darkness positively in [his] writings in order to challenge the traditional myths and stereotypes about [his] race” (5). Sometimes when African-Americans wrote about their “second-class citizenship”, they were
pessimistic about the change, however, Hughes was different. This is not evident in his poem “I, too, sing America”. In this poem, Hughes writes in the voice on African-American male who has been subservient to the “white society”. In the poem Hughes write, “They send me/ To eat in the kitchen/ When company comes” (2-5). The positive message of this poem is that although blacks were not seen as equals at that time he still tow had a voice and was American too. Also, it has an optimistic tone, this is evident when he writes, “Tomorrow/ I’ll sit at the table”(9-10). Here, Hughes speaks of tomorrow, which indicates that they may be a future and a brighter tomorrow. Next, he speaks of the shame that the oppressors would feel. This is what he meant when he wrote, “They’ll see/ How beautiful I am/ And be ashamed” (17-19). Then, Hughes concludes the poem with a simple yet declarative sentence in which he states, “I, too, am America”(20).
Langston Hughes was an excellent writer who traveled the throughout the United States and all over the world. During these travels, Hughes witnessed many events they led for him to write about them in his poetry. In addition to his witnessing events, Hughes also met a large number of people from all facets of the African-American community.
When Hughes witnessed the African-American society in the United States and the struggle that they went through he was inspired. Thanks to this inspiration, Hughes became the great writer and poet that he is known as today.
Cobb, Martha. “Langston Hughes.” Modern Critical Views: Langston Hughes.Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea P., 1989.103-126.
Floyd, Samuel A. Jr. “Music in the Harlem Renaissance: An Overview”. Black Music in the Harlem Renaissance. Ed. Samuel A. Floyd. Jr. Knoxville: Univ. of Tennessee P., 1990.1-28.
Hughes, Langston. “Cross.” I Wonder as I Wander. New York: Hill and Wong, 1956.59.
Hughes, Langston. “I, too, sing America.” I Wonder as I Wander. New York: Hill and Wong, 1956.60.
Hughes, Langston. I Wonder as I Wander. New York: Hill and Wong, 1956.
Spencer, Jon. The Negroes and their Music. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 1997.