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One of the most important of the influential people in Langston Hughes’ life was his grandmother. The ability to persevere through hardships and trials were her teachings. Lessons also learned were those of strength and determination. The proof of this is evident in a few of his literary works where a mother figure encourages and teaches her child, or student, life lessons on
staying the course. In the poem “Mother to Son” a mother tells of her persistence through life’s obstacles, encouraging her son not to give up.
“Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.”
She starts here with telling her son how hard life has been for her with the mentioning of the metaphor ‘crystal stair’, which is a reference of wealth and reaching the top.
“It's had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Here she explains why her life hasn’t been a “crystal stair”, and goes into detail about the state of poverty she’s been in.
“But all the time
I'se been a-climbin' on,
And reachin' landin's,
And turnin' corners,”
Explained here is her method of overcoming the odds. Notice the mentioning of stairs here also. A ‘landin’ or ‘landing’, is a level area on top of a staircase that is usually between one flight of stairs and another. She’s saying here that though climbing life’s stairs came with the addition of hardships, she still managed to reach the next level.
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“And sometimes goin' in the dark
Where there ain't been no light.”
Interpreting these lines, the mother says, “Sometimes I’ve been going through life not knowing what was coming next or where I was going”.
“ So, boy, don't you turn back.
Don't you set down on the steps.
'Cause you finds it's kinder hard.
Don't you fall now—
For I'se still goin', honey,
I'se still climbin',
And life for me ain't been no crystal stair. ”
To close she compares her situation to his as to say, “I’ve been through great amounts of suffering and have still progressed, so I know you can push through whatever your plight and do the same. I’m still advancing and life hasn’t been a smooth ride”. Another of Hughes poems, “Still Here”, also sends a message of steadfastness.
“Been scared and battered.
My hopes the wind done scattered.
Snow has friz me,
Sun has baked me,
Looks like between 'em they done
Tried to make me
Stop laughin', stop lovin', stop livin'--
But I don't care!
I'm still here!”
Notice here again the narrater mentioning the hardships endured in life and the underlined principle of staying the course. The lesson learned in both poems would inspire one to not give up, even through the most possible turmoil. Langston Hughes wrote many poems concerning this subject matter and evidently it was important for him to pass on the teachings. Perseverance would be essential to him for the coming hardships in his own life. Thanks to the influence of his grandmother he would have the tools to persevere.
Langston Hughes aggressively voiced his political opinion and showed characteristics of revolt in his literature. Again, we can link these traits to other major influences. Hughes’s great uncle, John Mercer Langston, was one of the best-known black Americans of the nineteenth century. John Langston was actively involved in the Abolitionism movement, and organized antislavery societies locally and at the state level. He also helped runaway slaves escape to the North and was a founding member and president of the National Equal Rights League, which fought for black voting rights. Equality and the “right to fight” are two characteristics that both Langston men shared. Langston Hughes shows his political beliefs in the poem “Democracy”.
“Democracy will not come
Today, this year
Through compromise and fear.
I have as much right
As the other fellow has
On my two feet
And own the land.
Here he’s saying “no matter what type of deal is made or what type of intimidation we put forth, we will still not have our right to democracy”.
I tire so of hearing people say,
Let things take their course.
Tomorrow is another day.
I do not need my freedom when I'm dead.
I cannot live on tomorrow's bread.”
Hughes is annoyed here and feels the need to take control of his own destiny and not accept the denial of what he should be entitled to. Translating “I do not need my freedom when I'm dead. I cannot live on tomorrow's bread”, Hughes explains in a way that tomorrow will never come.
Is a strong seed
In a great need.”
If a seed is in great need of being planted, we can assume that their is little to none of whatever type of seed it is. Hughes speaks of the seed as being “the seed of freedom”. This ‘strong’ seed is meant to break through the soil and free itself up above.
“I live here, too.
I want freedom
Just as you.”
A comparison of those who have democracy and those, including himself, who don’t is seen. His last final cry in this poem is the desire of equality. Hughes uses an angry tone throughout “Democracy” to express his frustration. Its as if he isn’t concerned about any type of solution throughout the poem, but only voicing his vexation. Another poem that displays Hughes’s militant outspokenness is “Justice”.
“That Justice is a blind goddess
Is a thing to which we black are wise:
Her bandage hides two festering sores
That once perhaps were eyes.”
One almost gasps for air after reading this passage. This poem also is meant to be read in an angry and maybe sarcastic tone. Key words identify its truly deep meaning. We all know the statue outside of most courthouses which is meant to represent the way in which our system of justice is ran. It is said that, “justice is blind”. This intending to mean that the law is just and has no room for inequality. Here, in the poem “Justice”, Hughes exposes the truth of the visual representation of the justice system. The words “blind goddess” can be interpreted as an immortal or all powerful female deity who cant see where she’s going. The section stating “Is a thing to which we black are wise”, is a translation for “As black people, we all know the truth behind Justice being blind. We aint stupid”. The end of the passage really packs a punch. Here Hughes suggests the bandage that Justice wears is to cover the wounds of where eyes previously resided. So it can be seen that he did think at one time Justice was fair but now she is truly blind and faulty. Hughes’s voiced political opinions were highly considered by blacks as well as high ranking officials in his time and really struck to the heart of both. It can be said that this trait is thanks to his militant bloodline.
Langston Hughes’s grandmother and his great uncle were very important influences in his life. One can credit them with having a great deal to do with his success. His work lives on as an inspiration to many and have been considered to be influences in many other famous writers lives. He has indeed passed on the teachings of his successors to write, fight, and persevere.