12 March 2000
Influences of the Harlem Renaissance on Hughes’s poems
Harlem Renaissance Poet
Commitment to the Negro Masses
“Mother to Son”
“The Negro Speaks of Rivers”
The Influences of the Harlem Renaissance
On Langston Hughes’ Poems
Harlem renaissance was a historical event that took place within and expressed the African American culture. During this period, black literature began to rise in New York City. The Harlem Renaissance was “a state of mind rather than a concrete movement or even a creative community.” Since the Harlem Renaissance reflects the past, the tradition of call and response and the ways it shapes narrative voice and expresses certain political values is the main focus. The Harlem Renaissance was “an explosive black cultural awakening in social and political expression as well as in fine arts, music, theater, and literature.” “Within this literary movement, black writers expressed feelings of social and political unrest, and attempted to define the Negro experience in a manner, which would integrate the Negro’s rural heritage with his or her new urban experience.” Furthermore, the Harlem Renaissance is an “intensely successful act of national self-definition” which was built on the foundation by Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois.
Langston Hughes was a very talented artist during the Harlem Renaissance Period. Although Hughes was talented in theater, short story, and prose, he considered himself a poet first. As a poet, he wrote about his desire for African Americans to have equality in the American society. For example, he wrote about being “seduced by the American dream of freedom and equality only to be denied its realization.” Furthermore, as he continued to write about the people he worked with, “many black intellectuals denounced him for portraying unsophisticated aspects of lower class life.”
Hughes was an important literary artist and a leading African American voice of the twentieth century. He expressed his African American heritage in his writings and wrote about black experiences. Another characteristic of Hughes’ poems is he devoted his career to portraying the urban experience of working-class blacks. Most of his poetry focused on the men and women he saw around him. As a poet he “addressed himself to the concerns of his people in his poems. He wanted his poetry to be ‘direct, comprehensible, and the epitome of simplicity.” His poetry resembles the voices of ordinary African Americans and the rhythms of their music.
There are certain characteristics that can be found within Hughes’s poems, such as the tribulations of his race. Much of his writings deal with improving the condition of American Negroes. His writings often combine the realistic admission of defeat for his race with an optimistic conviction that the United States will fulfill the Negroes hopes and dreams. Hughes’ poems compare the treatment of non-black immigrants in the United States with the mistreatment of African Americans. “Hughes’s poetry reveals 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.”
Another characteristic of Hughes’s poetry is a majority of his poems consist of works in a simpler style. Hughes claims that “where life is simple, truth and reality are one." Life for African Americans in America was not simple at all. “If one recognized the simple facts of life, one would be able to see the truth; if one lives by the truth, one’s reality will match one’s deals. Simplicity is truth in Hughes’s vision.”
The Harlem Renaissance influenced Hughes’s poetry through the use of themes within his poems. Two themes used within Hughes’s poems are (1) his expression of a commitment to the Negro masses, and (2) Harlem. Reflecting an insight into the life of the Negro masses, Hughes’s poetry included a picture of poverty and deprivation of their life. Throughout his career, life in the Negro metropolis was a basic element in his work. As Arthur P. Davis observed, “either stated or implied, used as a subject or background or protagonist, and on occasion even as a symbol for Negroes everywhere, Harlem has been a constantly recurring theme in Hughes’s poetry.” As Hughes portrayed the black lower classes and their ghetto environment in Harlem, he became “more preoccupied with the Negro’s racial identity. He began his search for the meaning of the racial experience in America.” Believing American blacks were Americans, he focused his attention on the Negro’s identity problems in America.
During the late 1920’s, Hughes was the center of most of Harlem Renaissance activity. Throughout the Renaissance, Hughes turned his attention more on the Negro lower classes, examining all aspects of their lives. Hughes wrote his literature about the lower classes because he believed they were more able to grow among themselves. Hughes was known as a “social poet,” and focused his attention on the proletariat. He never lost touch with the individual, and his poetry remained on a personal level. Although he had been concerned with the problems of blacks and the poor, during the depression years he moved closer to Communism in his personal beliefs, and his poetry became angrier and heavier.
Word Count: 860