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Langston Hughes The Black Revival English Literature Essay

Throughout our lives, we are often given rules created by society to abide. During the time of Langston Hughes’ life, African Americans had no rights to freedom. Over the years a variety of different methods and techniques have been used to combat racism. This one man used the art of literature and the power of his words to finally voice out on the struggles felt by black America. Hughes contributed to black culture in America and it was during this time commonly known as the Harlem Renaissance where blacks finally had a written voice for their people. While growing up Hughes moved around often having never built an honest relationship with his parents. Being that as it may, Hughes experienced poverty, and with that brought about a human being seeking for change. Amid being one of the most recognized black poets of his time, Hughes accomplished what very few blacks had done at all during this time. Prior to the Harlem Renaissance, the world of literature was dominated by the white race and it was now at this time Hughes used his creative style of poetry to speak to the people. It was the struggles, dreams and ethnic discrimination of the African American people which fueled Hughes to write. The beauty of his poetry sets forth a feeling of inspiration, wisdom, perseverance, equality, and ultimately a belief that “black is beautiful” (Jones & Kiwak 15). Throughout his poetic works, Hughes identifies the oppression felt by the African American people ultimately setting forth his ambition to uplift blacks from the adversities of society to the ultimate goal of equality.

As a child Hughes grew up lonely never having a true father or mother figure. Due to the loneliness he felt as a teenager, Hughes sought out reading and writing poetry to ease his struggles. Although it temporarily relieved him of this loneliness, the wounds still wore on and Hughes felt abandoned and unwanted by his family. Hughes grew up not sure of what he really wanted out of life, but soon discovered how such a gloomy childhood could have such a profound effect on him. Never truly having a great relationship with his father, Hughes attempted trips in an outreach to his father to try to build the bond that was missing. Hughes never truly liked his father for his attitudes towards Negroes were that of dislike and worthlessness. Hughes’ father wanted him to become an engineer or someone who could make a lot of money because money was everything to his father. When Hughes proposed to his father that he wanted to be a writer and write of his black experience, his father strongly disapproved due to his pure dislike for blacks. Traveling one last time to his father for college money, Hughes wrote one of his most famous poems, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”. Notably a lyric poem, this poem reveals the themes of wisdom and perseverance respectively. Hughes writes,

I've known rivers:

I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the

flow of human blood in human veins. 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 upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.

I've known rivers:

Ancient, dusky rivers… My soul has grown deep like the rivers. (Hughes 3)

Wisdom amongst the Negro race is described in line 2-3 as having been “accumulated since the dawn of human existence” (Rampersad in The Big Sea 33). In other words Hughes speaks for all blacks by saying that ever since the beginning blacks weren’t worthless, but were an understanding and intelligent race representing success. The fourth and final lines explain that “black men and women have a proud cultural history and record of accomplishment against adversity despite so much suffering inflicted on them; black men and women have endured troubling times through the ages, never giving up” (Rampersad in The Big Sea 34). Hughes’ ambition was to break through all the barriers of injustice and inequality to finally get society to listen.

Hughes’ poems all commonly have a theme of the black experience and how oppressive living in a white culture really was for them. Living amidst the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes wrote poems depicting the lives of blacks which included their poverty, injustice, struggles, and the despair of his people. Throughout the chaotic decades beginning in the 1920’s all the way through until the 1960’s, African Americans had tremendous difficulties just going about everyday life. During all this time the blacks could only find relief in their thoughts and dreams. For it was this which called Hughes to be heard. The blacks would dream about places better for their families, themselves, and above all else for their futures. Hughes writes his poem “Harlem” discussing if such dreams and imaginings really occurred what could happen. This is also one of Hughes’ more famous poems as he writes,

What happens to a dream deferred?  Does it dry up 

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore-

And then run? 

Does it stink like rotten meat? 

Or crust and sugar over-

like a syrupy sweet?  Maybe it just sags 

like a heavy load. ......Or does it explode? (Hughes 14)

Hughes appears to be asking what would happen to our dreams and aspirations if they were to be set aside. Living in a society where African Americans were treated as inferior human beings, dreams and aspirations were hard to achieve. Hughes uses this poem to convey his deepest aggravation for his people, therefore whoever reads his poem no matter what decade or year everyone could relate because Hughes’ message is universal and applies to everybody. Hughes’ poem is expressing how he truly feels about the dreams he has and the frustrating fact that society won’t let him achieve any of them. One of Hughes’ main focuses here is trying to understand what dreams really are. Are all of these thoughts and aspirations a good thing or a bad thing? Whatever happens to our dreams once forgotten? Hughes uses a simile to best portray his question on what might happen to our dreams in line 2-3 “Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?” (Hughes 14). The imagery being represented in these lines can go both ways. Rampersad best describes it this way “If a raisin is a grape that has been dried up by the sun, then a dream can take the life right out of a person draining them of everything” (Rampersad in The Collected Poems 23). Nevertheless Hughes most likely proposed this poem to mainly be about the dreams and aspirations of the African American people living in Harlem. Hughes carefully puts forth these images in such a way to where people can recognize that the longer you postpone your dreams, the less likely that they will come true, thus fading into existence. Society and its adversities take a huge toll on every black American, and though equality is so far from reach, Hughes still finds his way sharing his view of the black experience so that maybe one day his dreams of equality could come true.

Hughes incorporated the syncopated rhythms and repetitive phrases of blues and jazz music into their writing. Many Harlem Renaissance writers were deeply concerned with racial pride and with the creation of purely African-American poetry. Since jazz music was an important part of African-American culture at the time, Hughes and others like him adapted the musical genre to create their own, singularly African-American voices that could easily be distinguished from the work of white poets. Many of Hughes' poems, such as "The Weary Blues," sound almost exactly like popular jazz and blues songs of the period,

Hughes loved to write and ever since he started his works have changed many people’s views of black America. Among the variety of ways Hughes wrote, he expressed himself best through his poetry. The elements of jazz, blues and the African American people all together structured and gave rhythmic tune to his poetry.

Hughes is also known for his influence on jazz and blues, which is reflected in the rhythmic patterns in his writings.

Like Walt Whitman, one of his favorite writers, Hughes created a persona that spoke for more than himself. Hughes’s poetry reveals his hearty appetite for all humanity, his insistence on justice for all, and his faith in the transcendent possibilities of joy and hope that make room for everyone at America’s table

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