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“I swear to the Lord, I still can't see, why Democracy means, everybody but me”. These are the words of Langston Hughes, a black writer and poet from the early twentieth century. This man was famous for his portrayal of the realities of black life and culture in America. Although some literary critics may feel that Hughes’s poetry presented an unattractive view of black life, his poetry demonstrated the reality of their lives. Many of Hughes’s poems stand out in their description of the black experience.
"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.
With such great notables as Countee Cullen, Jean Toomer, Zora Neale, and James Johnson, mainstream American now had a unique window into the plight of African Americans all over the country. One individual though stands out as one of the most prominent figures of the Harlem Renaissance. Langston Hughes defined himself by his ability to pursue the true essence of “black folk” at a time when black identity, culture, or art was considered an oxymoronic concept. Hughes sought to explore the true identity of Black America even amidst criticism that his work was anti-assimilationist in its literary expression. Wallace Thurman, one of Hughes’ closest friends had this to say about the poet’s subject matter: “He went for inspiration and rhythms to those people who had been the least absorbed by the quagmire of American Kultur, and from them he undertook to select and preserve such autonomous racial values as were being rapidly eradicated in order to speed the Negro’s assimilation.” ( Bloom 161) To many black critics, including Thurman, the subjects of Langston Hughes’ poetry exposed an aspect of the black culture that, according to Countee Cullen threw wide, “every door of the racial entourage, to the wholesale gaze of the world at large (Bloom 152).” Hughes was a lover of his people and sought to explain and illuminate the Negro condition in America.