In America during the time these poems were written, African Americans were combated with issues of segregation and inequality. The poem “America” describes African American feelings toward the country of America; whereas, “The White City” describes African American feelings toward segregation and individual experiences. Both of these poems successfully display different interpretations of hate through the use of various literary devices. Understanding hatred in its complexity and the uses it has for African Americans is accurately displayed through these poems with passion. These poems both focus on the negative emotions of anguish and resentment associated with the unequal treatment of African Americans, and, through the use of tone and metaphor, the differences between individual and group experiences are illuminated.
Hughes took on the injustices that other dared no to speak of. He wrote about how the African-American people of the 1920’s suffered the plight of racial inequality. In many cases I believe that Hughes used his writing as an instrument of change. In “Come to the Waldorf-Astoria” (506) Hughes tackles the drastic disparity between wealthy whites and the African Americans of the 1930’s. This piece displays an unconventional style for a poem; using satire to capture the reader’s attention.
Paul Laurence Dunbar was one of the first black poets in his time to confront the hypocrisy he saw around him. “We wear the mask” was one of his outstanding works that addressed racial injustices in American society. This poem was all about the assertion that “we wear the masks” to hide their true feeling. Yet, he goes on to emphasize that the ruthlessness of suffering and pain that these masks try to cover up because they had to keep all the pains by themselves without expressing. According to William Carroll, “The poem closes with a repetition of a sentiment stated earlier: ‘But let the world dream otherwise, / we wear the mask!’ The people show a dogged determination to keep the true nature of their sufferings to themselves and to present to others an outward show of happiness and lack of care.
"The Negro Speaks of Rivers", one of Hughes most famous works, is basically a "history" of black society. In this poem, black society is, in a way, the speaker. The speaker has watched how slavery has taken its people out of a state of nature and placed them into "bondage." The poem is obviously addressed to the members of black society who seem to find some discontentment in the lifestyle they live in a "white man's world." However, there is an optimistic undertone in that the speaker does show how much African Americans have endured.
He is part of the African-American race that is expressed in his writing. He writes about how he is currently oppressed, but this does not diminish his hope and will to become the equal man. Because he speaks from the point of view of an oppressed African-American the poem’s struggles and future changes seem to be of greater importance than they ordinarily would. The point of view of being the oppressed African American is clearly evident in Langston Hughes’s writing. The author states, “I am the darker brother” (2.2) Here Hughes is clearly speaking on behalf of the African American race because during the early and mid 1900’s African American were oppressed because of their darker skin color.
“We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar is a lyrical poem describing the symbolic mask worn by black Americans to cover up their deep misery and pain while facing racial discrimination and psychological torment in the post-Civil War years. The overall impression the reader gets is that of a mournful commentary that delivers a sad reality. The struggle lies in the fact that black Americans do not wish to expose their suffering, and so they are forced to use the mask as a way to make the world believe they are content and satisfied. This is purely a survival tactic. In order for black Americans to assimilate into the society that has caused them and their ancestors pain, they feel the need to wear a mask that allows them to at least superficially express their gratitude for having been kept alive.
I, Too is an anti-discrimination poem, which shows the injustice of racism. The poem is very effective because of its genuine emotions. The poem is situated in America and describes a black man’s personal experience with racial discrimination. He is treated as if he is an embarrassment to the white people, and made to feel inferior to them. The poet is trying to show how America “covers up” her racial discrimination “problems.” He also wants to convey the importance of racial equality.
This chapter attempts to focus upon the problem of identity that confronted the African-Americans in America. Thus it investigates the African-American’s identity dilemma as shown in the poetry of Claude McKay and Langston Hughes. At the same time, it provides a solution for the African-American’s problem of estrangement and identity crisis. But while McKay’s self-rejection of his blackness urges him to trace the quest for identity in exile, Hughes’ self acceptance of his blackness enables him to reconcile with the white oppressors who stripped the black race from its identity. Moreover, it sheds light upon the psychological consequences that resulted from the violation of the African-American’s identity.
The blacks that Hughes focuses most of his writing on are the “most burdened and oppressed of the black underclass, and people who have the most reason to despair but show the least evidence of it” (Bloom, “Thematic Analysis of the ‘Weary Blues’” 14). He tells the story of their life and times to voice his displeasure with the oppression of blacks (“Langston Hughes” 792). His work opens the public’s eye about what it is like to be black in America (“Langston Hughes” 792). In Hughes’ short poem “Harlem,” the speaker of the poem questions how the African American dream of equal opportunity is being constantly deferred and suppressed by white society (Niemi 1). Hughes wants his work to illuminate the fact that blacks miss opportunities due to their oppression.
The critically acclaimed African American scholar, W.E.B. DuBois, contends the strife of minority groups (specifically African Americans) in the United States. DuBois sets the opening scene for other African American literary artists who use literature as a means of self-expression and explanation. According to DuBois’s The Souls of Black Folk, African Americans have developed two identities in American society: “This double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, -- an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder” (DuBois 527).