Langston Hughes Essay, Research Paper
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken winged bird
That can not fly. -Langston Hughes
Langston Hughes was first recognized as an important literary figure during the 1920 s, a period known as the Harlem Renaissance because of the number of emerging black writers. He remains one of the most impressive, durable, and prolific black writers in America, according to David Littlejohn. His tone has that intimate, elusive, near-tragic, near-comic sound of the Negro blues, and is equally defiant of analysis. His theme is not so much white oppression, as the Negro s quiet resistance to it. His writings typify (and probably support) the famous and useful myth of Negro endurance- the knowing grin, half-smile half-smirk, of the bowing but unbeaten (Riley). Hughes uses his poetry and prose to illustrate that there is no lack within the Negro people of beauty, strength and power, and he chose to do so on their own level, on their own terms.
Langston is a skillful and durable storyteller as he is a poet, a master of the ironic comedies of Negro life. Certain elements of style are typical of his stories: irony, fragments for pictures, exclamations in exposition, contrasts, ambiguities, and paradoxes Lesniak). In his short story Salvation, written in the first person, the main character never had Jesus come save him. All the young children in the church were supposed to have Jesus come to them and save them, but unfortunately the main character never saw Jesus. Ashamed, confused, and embarrassed, he lied and said he saw him. That night the boy cried in bed. He woke his aunt up by his sobbing, and explained the situation saying, She woke up and told my uncle I was crying because the Holy Ghost had come into my life, and because I had seen Jesus. But I was really crying because I couldn t bear to tell her that I had lied, that I had deceived everybody in the church, I hadn t seen Jesus (Hughes). The irony here is that, the boy cries because he committed a sin in the church, but his family along with the church cries because they are overwhelmed with the joy that Jesus has come save this young boy. His family never learns the real reason why their son is crying, creating irony in the short story. In the poem My People by Langston Hughes he uses contrast to describe his people .
The night is beautiful,
So are my people.
The stars are beautiful,
So the eyes of my people.
Beautiful, also, is the sun.
Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people -Langston Hughes.
He depicts his people as beautiful comparing them to the night, stars, and sun.
Langston Hughes poems and stories reveal the author s comprehension of Negro folk culture, and his awareness of historical and individual forces at work in Southern life. (Riley) In Hughes writings the conventional life of the Negro folk is made to come alive, and that, of course, is the life of the Negro folk as they are. His poem, I, too, sing America, is a perfect example of just that.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong -Langston Hughes.
Like most of his works, Langston Hughes gives the reader a clear idea of the Negro society. A reviewer for The Black World was quoted saying, he used his poetry and prose to illustrate that there is no lack within the Negro people of beauty, strength, and power, and he chose to do so on their own level, on their own terms. This is clearly represented in his poem. According to Donald Gibson, Hughes has perhaps the greatest reputation (worldwide) that any black writer has ever had. Hughes differed from most of his predecessors among black poets in that he addressed his poetry to the people, specifically to black people (Lesniak)
During the twenties most American poets were turning inward, writing obscure and esoteric poetry to an ever decreasing audience of reader, Hughes was turning outward, using language and themes, attitudes and ideas familiar to anyone who had the ability simple to read (Riley). In Hughes poem, The Negro Speaks of Rivers , he is clearly aware of the injustice and oppression in his society.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked up the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New
Orleans, and I ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset
This early poem of Hughes testifies to his abiding hope for the fulfillment of the American ideal-not only for black people, but for all the dispossessed of the land (Riley).
Langston Hughes may have very well been one of the world s most outstanding Negro authors of the 20th century, but then again no one is perfect; everyone has flaws. A critic Blyden Jackson said, [his] impressions tend to lack depth, if not also concentrated power. Hughes s impressions do come from the right places. They are taken by an artist who does not stand in his own light Yet they are still impressions (Riley). In Hughes poem, The Negro speaks of Rivers where he describes all the rivers and what function they played in his life, he never really gives us a clear example. It is almost like he leaves the picture open for us to figure out on our own, where it could mean one thing to his audience, it might serve another purpose for him. There is a clear impression of the lake and the purpose it served, but the reasons behind it are unclear. Another example of Hughes imperfections is in his novel Not Without Laughter. The main character, Sandy, is never fully developed as a character, when less important characters such as Harriet and Aunt Hagar are. The plot is also slightly weak. Although not all the characters are fully developed, they are believable. However, Hughes description of a small town Negro life is unsurpassed. Blyden Jackson also commented on Hughes work saying, Hughes was not a genius at synthesizing big things. He could, and yet he could not, quite see the whole forest as some writers do. It may have been his greatest lack and probably the reason he has never seemed as serious as writers like Ellison and Wright, or Tolson at his best (Riley). Even so he saw enough to be a leading interpreter of the Negro in twentieth-century America and twentieth-century literature.
James A. Emanuel commented on his style saying, Hughes chief virtues as a writer of fiction-and more references to his two novels would not alter the conclusions-lie mostly in his style. The dialog responds unerringly to facts of race he weaves incident, personality, and racial history into recurrent patterns With humor one of his rare gifts, Hughes injects comfortable chuckles into much of his poetry and prose (Riley). Another critic said, [Hughes ] writing often combines the realistic admission of temporary or past defeat for his race with an optimistic conviction that the United States will soon fulfill the Negro s hopes and dreams (Riley). Perhaps the most interesting feature of Hughes poetry was his innovative style. He experimented with adapting black musical forms to his work (Riley). For example, the blues form, with its repetitive reinforcement, was a very effective technique to describe suffering and misery:
When I was home de
Sunshine seemed like gold
Since I came up North de
Whole damn world s turned cold.
Weary early in de morn.
I s so weary
I wish I d never been born. -Langston Hughes.
Hughes also used jazz rhythms and the tempo of black work music to achieve different effects. In Brass Spittoons, work rhymes set the pace of the poem and captures the feeling of tedious labor. A critic, Cary D. Wintz, described his poem, Montage of A Dream Deferred as He refined his technique in his post-Renaissance poetry and applied it most successfully in his Harlem epic, Montage of A Dream Deferred, where he used jazz models or capture the full essence of Harlem life (Riley).
Hughes poems and stories reveal the authors understanding of Negro folk culture, and his awareness of all the forces of work in Southern Negro life. James A. Emanuel was quoted describing Hughes lyrical hope for America as, [something that] fuses natural color and fragrance in objects and people, transformed by the kind fingers of creative love. Life, love, and joy blow a clean wind of optimism through much of [his] poetry (Riley). Much of Hughes writing like his life was dedicated to improving brotherhood in America, and just the overall condition of Negro lives. Through his tone, theme, and style he did just that.