Writing during the emergence of the “New Negro” movement, Claude McKay and Langston Hughes work to reconcile black life in white America. The trope used by the two poets within “The Harlem Dancer” and “The Weary Blues” is that of a performance and a single speaker’s recollection of it. While both depict an African-American performer presumably consumed by the isolation and oppression of their condition, the intensity of the performances prove to be vastly disparate. Hughes’ “The Weary Blues” features a much more transcendent performance than that of McKay’s “The Harlem Dancer” not only because of the relationship between the audience and the performer, but the degree of ubiquity in descriptions of the performer and the poetic form through which the performance is framed. While neither performer attempts to gain anything from their audience, the impact of their art on the speaker identifies the importance McKay placed on art as a means to build racial pride as well as Hughes interest in art as a means to communicate a common struggle. The degree of transcendence attained by a particular performance depends largely on the relationship the audience has with the performer. Claude McKay’s Harlem dancer is initially framed through the gaze of a group of rambunctious youths, densely packed into a Harlem night-club. The young men accompanied by their prostitutes cheer and laugh, debasing the dance to a lewd exhibition. Where the seductive disrobement of the dancer would be thought to warrant a level of hypnotic control over the viewers, their capacity for the manipulation of her image indicates that the performance holds little to no significance. While “perfection” is attained by the sway of her half-clothed body, rather than a testame... ... middle of paper ... ...ce taking place within a limited audience, allowing it to grow and develop to eventually define the culture of the New Negro. The transcendent quality of the blues, featured in the poem by Langston Hughes, may be placed in opposition to McKay as there is undeniable value in shared experience. While the nature of blues music within the poem is undeniably black and meant to connect black people, the poem presents music as something that is important for expression and formulation of identity as a dynamic community. The two poems, in their depiction of the performances, propose different solutions to the black condition of isolation. While McKay suggests that the strength to counter oppression and alienation is present in the hidden capacity of the individual, Hughes presents a man who is kept alive through struggle and persistence fueled through a communal tradition.
1920’s Harlem was a time of contrast and contradiction, on one hand it was a hotbed of crime and vice and on the other it was a time of creativity and rebirth of literature and at this movement’s head was Langston Hughes. Hughes was a torchbearer for the Harlem Renaissance, a literary and musical movement that began in Harlem during the Roaring 20’s that promoted not only African-American culture in the mainstream, but gave African-Americans a sense of identity and pride.
“Poetry is the rhythmical creation of beauty in words.” –Edgar Allan Poe. Poetry is one of the world’s greatest wonders. It is a way to tell a story, raise awareness of a social or political issue, an expression of emotions, an outlet, and last but not least it is an art. Famous poet Langston Hughes uses his poetry as a musical art form to raise awareness of social injustices towards African-Americans during the time of the Harlem Renaissance. Although many poets share similarities with one another, Hughes creatively crafted his poetry in a way that was only unique to him during the 1920’s. He implemented different techniques and styles in his poetry that not only helped him excel during the 1920’s, but has also kept him relative in modern times. Famous poems of his such as a “Dream Deferred,” and “I, Too, Sing America” are still being studied and discussed today. Due to the cultural and historical events occurring during the 1920’s Langston Hughes was able to implement unique writing characteristics such as such as irregular use of form, cultural and historical referenced themes and musical influences such as Jazz and the blues that is demonstrative of his writing style. Langston Hughes use of distinct characteristics such as irregular use of form, cultural and historical referenced themes and musical influences such as Jazz and the blues helped highlight the plights of African-Americans during the Harlem Renaissance Era.
“The Weary Blues” speaks of a person hearing a Negro playing the blues on a piano “Down on Lenox Avenue the other night,”. The poem is centered around this event, explaining “He did a lazy sway…He did a lazy sway…” It seems that Hughes was addressing the common link of Negro’s, urban life, and the blues music seventy years ago; quite a different approach than his other work.
As a poet who paved the way for African American artists to flourish in a white dominated world, Langston Hughes changed the face of writers during the era of the Harlem Renaissance. Hughes is the descendant of a mixed race and background, but he is considered the father of the “New Negro Movement.” His most noted piece of literature, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,” which was written in 1926, still applies to the youth and elderly of Blacks in America. As a young black woman in America’s 21st century, the realization has been made that not many things have changed in regards to the plight of the “Negro” in America. William Pickens said, “The new Negro is not really new; he is the same Negro under new conditions and subjected to new demands” (79). This quote claims that the Negro is neither new nor old but constantly evolving based upon new situations and predicaments. “The Negro Artists and the Racial Mountain” supports the statement that Black Americans are continuously scrutinized for assimilating into Western culture but are praised for embracing Pan-Africanism.
Perfect, as they see her, only describes the traits belonging to her surface. Her half-nakedness is a reference only to her clothing, but not so presumptuous as to insinuate it is that of her soul. Simile implies the angelic beauty of her voice, and notes that it is only accentuated by elation, and memories of good times. A shift in perspective begins a much more profound journey. Mckay employs the narrator’s viewpoint for a twist, allowing us to see more of her. No longer through the distorted view of youth, we see the dancer revealed differently, deeper. As a silent observer standing in the back of a dark, smoky club, the mysterious narrator sees her light amongst the darkness. Her scars of lost love and shattered dreams create an image of fierce grace that only ripens with the maturity of womanhood, and accentuates the true beauty within her soul, of overcoming, of standing proud, of facing the storm, no matter what. Life itself is inevitably vulnerable yet somehow, strength, even when silent, prevails. With her trunk strong and head held high, he speaks of the storms she has weathered, which is her tale of hardship, adversity, and inevitable oppression. He sees her hurt, and recognizes, even if only for a moment. Time stands still. As if jolted back to reality by the clanking of coins being tossed about the stage, the young riled audience, like a pack of wild beasts, devour
Both authors took a leap by publishing works that criticized their oppressors, a leap that put them each in harm’s way. Each poet was able to inspire and educate in their own way, using their own personal touches; Hughes, working to inform his people and unite them against a common enemy through passionate prose, and McKay, working to ignite the passions of his audience in order to compel them to take a forceful stand. The importance of both perspectives operating in unison cannot be understated. A broader set of perspectives and beliefs about the same issue is effective in inspiring a broader, larger, and more diverse group of readers. The sad image that Hughes creates was most likely effective in reaching even the white Americans who already enjoyed their full freedom, by opening the eyes of whites and other unoppressed races to the plights of early African-Americans. In contrast, McKay’s poem was most likely more effective in rallying African-Americans specifically. The advantage of these (though not greatly) differing messages was immense, and underlines the importance of differing viewpoints, and also inspired different groups of people, in order to bring about a more rapid, and more universally agreed upon change. Against a tyrannical force such as a racist majority, these two viewpoints
Their literature saw to separating the ‘black man’ from the obstructive stereotypes that had put a strain on relationships between African Americans and their heritage. The creative minds of Hughes and McKay added to a movement that used art forms such as music, paintings, and literature to achieve social and political progress in the United
Waldron, Edward E. “The Blues Poetry of Langston Hughes” in Negro American Literature Forum, 5, 1971, pp.140-49
The content is written in the style of the blues not only in the music but in the social perspective of the times in Harlem in respect to the sufferings and struggles of the African-American past and present experiences, and what they were going to encount...
The contradiction of being both black and American was a great one for Hughes. Although this disparity was troublesome, his situation as such granted him an almost begged status; due to his place as a “black American” poet, his work was all the more accessible. Hughes’ black experience was sensationalized. Using his “black experience” as a façade, however, Hughes was able to obscure his own torments and insecurities regarding his ambiguous sexuality, his parents and their relationship, and his status as a public figure.
One of the most influential writers of the Harlem Renaissance was Jamaican born Claude McKay, who was a political activist, a novelist, an essayist and a poet. Claude McKay was aware of how to keep his name consistently in mainstream culture by writing for that audience. Although in McKay’s arsenal he possessed powerful poems. The book that included such revolutionary poetry is Harlem Shadows. His 1922 book of poems, Harlem Shadows, Barros acknowledged that this poem was said by many to have inaugurated the Harlem Renaissance. Throughout McKay’s writing career he used a lot of dialect and African American vernacular in his writing, which was rather controversial at the time. Writing in dialect wasn’t considered proper for writing formal literature. For this paper I chose the poem “If We Must Die”, one of his strongest political poem included in Harlem Shadows. The subject matter that McKay writes about is confrontational. Even if McKay used classical poetry techniques to write “If We Must Die”. McKay used the poetry technique of the sonnet by using the 13 lines and 1 last line in the end. In “If We Must Die” McKay uses rhymes, and metaphors to associate and personify the poem. Using these techniques the audience can identify with the writer and the poem itself. The poem at first seems to have been written for a black audience but then it grew tremendously for a wider universal audience. This poem spoke to anyone and everyone who was being oppressed or in a situation that they weren’t in control of.
When looking at the Harlem Renaissance, readers can expect to discover many artists that pushed the exposure of Jazz, Blues, and African American literature to the American mainstream during the 1920’s – 1930’s. Langston Hughes is associated with the Harlem Renaissance for his literary works and activism. Zora Neale Hurtson, was also a writer associated with the Harlem Renaissance, her works are, to say the least are in contrast to Hughes’s work. I reason that the different styles of writing and thinking, that were contributed to the Harlem Renaissance is in regards to both author’s upbringing/childhood experiences. The two literary compositions that I will be reviewing are I, Too by Langston Hughes, (The Norton Anthology
Hughes explains the awareness of the black uprising and racial breakdown stories of submission essential to African Americans about the time of slavery. Weakening the traditional idea of what negroes were forced to think their lives were like for the past three hundred years. Hughes’s Harlem Renaissance poetry not only condemns white oppression, but it also disproves the condition of being lower class which was pointed toward black people being left out of human history. After the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes left his trends of poetry to move on to a Marxist art prioritizing social and political narratives that reflected on the interest of his people. Hughes’s shift from folklore poetry to revolutionary poetry in the 1930’s, is explained in his poem “White Man” where racial conflicts between blacks and whites is replaced with class struggle of most economic exploration and capitalism
Langston Hughes was an activist for the African-American community and made significant artistic contributions to the Harlem Renaissance throughout his career. In one of his most famous poems, “Harlem [Dream Deferred]”, he addresses the limitations and oppression of African Americans after the Great Depression. Many African Americans dreamed of equality, but often times that dream became neglected and pushed aside. In his poem, Hughes responds to a question about a deferred dream with a series of vivid similes, inquiring what happens to a constantly ignored dream.
Over the course of the century chronicling the helm of slavery, the emancipation, and the push for civil, equal, and human rights, black literary scholars have pressed to have their voice heard in the midst a country that would dare classify a black as a second class citizen. Often, literary modes of communication were employed to accomplish just that. Black scholars used the often little education they received to produce a body of works that would seek to beckon the cause of freedom and help blacks tarry through the cruelties, inadequacies, and inconveniences of their oppressed condition. To capture the black experience in America was one of the sole aims of black literature. However, we as scholars of these bodies of works today are often unsure as to whether or not we can indeed coin the phrase “Black Literature” or, in this case, “Black poetry”. Is there such a thing? If so, how do we define the term, and what body of writing can we use to determine the validity of the definition. Such is the aim of this essay because we can indeed call a poem “Black”. We can define “Black poetry” as a body of writing written by an African-American in the United States that formulates a concentrated imaginative awareness of an experience or set of experiences inextricably linked to black people, characterizes a furious call or pursuit of freedom, and attempts to capture the black condition in a language chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through meaning, sound, and rhythm. An examination of several works of poetry by various Black scholars should suffice to prove that the definition does hold and that “Black Poetry” is a term that we can use.