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Analysis of Langston Hughes' On the Road

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Analysis of Langston Hughes' On the Road

 

In life, we are often confronted with boundaries created by society and ourselves. In our limited understanding of what those boundaries represent, we find ourselves confined by our ego. Racism and prejudices have plagued society for many years, and many of us have been judged and condemned for expressing our true selves. How long must it take for us all to be accepted as beautiful beings, all perfectly capable of greatness and joy?

 

Langston Hughes', "On the Road," uses beautiful symbolism and imagery. He offers a gift to his readers: Open your heart and life will provide unlimited abundance. During this literary analysis, we will take a look at how Hughes uses nature to demonstrate his main character's unwillingness to participate in life. Another point we'll examine is the use of anger and survival and how it can be used as a powerful force in breaking down racial barriers. Next, we'II look at Jesus Christ as a metaphor for how we experience life and how traditional church values contradict each other when it comes to the acceptance of human beings. Finally, we'll briefly take an historic look at how the Depression gave blacks an even playing field with whites.

 

To begin with, Hughes uses nature to demonstrate a distinct relationship amongst blacks and whites. His use of snow and night convey a point simple enough, but through the use of these metaphors, he enables the story to be less invasive and more appealing to everyone that experiences "On the Road". Hughes' main character, Sargeant, is left doubting the goodness of life. "Sargeant didn't see the snow, not even under the bright lights of the main street, falling white and flaky against the night. He was too hungry, too sleepy, too tired" (Hughes 1). For almost two hundred years white people have suppressed the black population. Hughes' use of snow and night give us perfect example. Sargeant was tired of fighting, tired of surviving, tired of hoping, and most of all tired of the white people who've suppressed and tormented his life.

 

On the other hand, Hughes reminds us that if combined, the beauty of both night and snow create a perfect harmony. "...falling white and flaky against the night" (Hughes 1). While living in Colorado, there was nothing more beautiful than taking a late night walk and seeing the bright, vibrant snow fall fresh on my face. The contrast of light and dark created complete symmetry. How can something so diametrically opposed be so perfect and beautiful? Perhaps God intended that way!

 

Another point that is conveyed in Hughes' essay is the use of anger and survival in his main character Sargeant. These two things combined can be a powerful force when it comes to taking action against the suppression of society.

 

When we limit our expression of ourselves, anger is often the result. From anger, our survivalist mode kicks in, and we are more detached from God then at any other time. As seen in the essay, it's clear that Sargeant is struggling for survival. It's also clear that due to the pain he feels whites have inflicted upon him, he will now take any measures necessary to insure his own best interest.

 

Following a series of rejections for a place to stay, Sargeant finds himself at the front door of the church with a desperate hope that he may enter and keep warm overnight; however, he finds himself being rejected again, this time at the feet of a white church. " 'A big black unemployed Negro holding onto your church' thought the people. 'The idea!' The cops began to beat Sargeant over the head, and nobody protested. But he held on" (Hughes 2). Sargeant was determined. He was famished and exhausted and certainly felt that at least the church should offer him a comforting, relaxing place to stay.

 

Hughes could also be saying that Sargeant wasn't only trying to survive, but he was holding onto his faith! This leads me to my next illustration.

 

Next, Hughes does two things. First, he uses Jesus Christ as a metaphor for how we experience life. For Christians, Jesus was a savior: He carried the burden of our sins and troubles to show us God's love for his children. In the essay, Sargeant is paralleled to Christ in a way that he too must carry a heavy burden. After the church fell down, the reader is given the image of Sargeant walking down the street with the stone pillar on his shoulder, almost in the same way we see Christ as he carried the cross. "Sargeant got out from under the church and went walking up on the street with the stone pillar on his shoulder... And threw the pillar six blocks up the street and went on" (Hughes 2). When the church came crashing down, with it came its values, beliefs, and ideals: Such as Jesus being freed from the cross. In Hughes' own ideal, Sargeant was freed from his burden of being suppressed by whites, by standing up for his own needs.

 

Secondly, traditional church values contradict each other when it comes to the acceptance of each human being. In my opinion, Christ was a man of peace and love, who sought to invite anyone, regardless of race, age, or sex, into the kingdom of heaven. Hughes challenges Christianity by showing how judgmental and self-righteous the church has been throughout the years. "I know it's a white folks' church, but I got to sleep somewhere" (Hughes 2). Christ spoke of acceptance; it's clear that the black population has felt resentful towards whites for this kind of prejudice. Even if a man is starving and freezing to death, we still refuse him help!

 

Finally, America struggled immensely throughout the Great Depression. It marked one of the first times in American History that the majority population began to experience the similar lows that minorities had been experiencing for two centuries prior. Not only were the black and immigrant population experiencing poverty and starvation, but the predominantly white oriented American culture as well. Langston Hughes' essay challenges the culture of the time. It's important for communities of all ethnic backgrounds to work together to infuse a society that would benefit every individual. A good example, to illustrate this point, " 'You wait,' mumbled Sargeant, black against the jail wall. 'I'm going to break down this door, too' " (Hughes 4). Even though the conclusion of Hughes' essay ends with Sargeant in jail, it's clear that he refuses to yield before he has united mankind. He realizes how important it is to break down the barriers so that we may coexist peacefully.

 

In conclusion, Hughes leaves me feeling clear and inspired. He's done an excellent job conveying the significance of God in our daily lives. "I wonder where Christ had gone?", Sargeant says (Hughes 4), making it clear that his meeting with Jesus had a profound effect. Hughes opens our eyes to unconditional love and respect for humanity, and he pays a special thanks to the people like Jesus and Sargeant who have made our world a better place.

 

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