Search for Identity in the Poetry of Langston Hughes Essay

Search for Identity in the Poetry of Langston Hughes Essay

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Search for Identity in the Poetry of Langston Hughes

In exploring the problem of identity in Black literature we find no simple or definite explanation. Nevertheless, it is generally accepted that it is rooted in the reality of the discriminatory social system in America with its historic origins in the institution of slavery. One can discern that this slavery system imposes a double burden on the Negro through severe social and economic inequalities and through the heavy psychological consequences suffered by the Negro who is forced to play an inferior role, 1 the latter relates to the low self-estimate, feeling of helplessness and basic identity conflict. Thus, in some form or the other, every Negro American is confronted with the question of `where he is' in the prevailing white society. The problem of Negro identity has various dimensions like the color, community and class.

The inescapable reality of the Negro existence in America is color which is inherent in the concept of self, manifest in race-consciousness.2 This is significant because a Negro establishes his identity with other individuals, known or unknown, on the basis of a similarity of color and features, thus making his racial group membership the nexus of his self identity.3 In 1915, the Association for the study of Negro life and history made special endeavours to convince the Negroes that they could never acquire respectability in society if they despised their history and looked upon themselves as inferior. It was felt that "the American Negro must remake its past in order to make his future."4

After the Negro began to search his identity in the glorious past-his heritage and his folk tradition, he began to feel proud of his black wholesome colour. La...

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...hes, "One." Selected Poems (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979), p. 92.
  • Langston Hughes, "Bound No'th Blues." Selected Poems (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979), p. 174.
  • Langston Hughes, "Vagabonds." Selected Poems (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979), p. 91.
  • Langston Hughes, "Merry-Go-Round." Selected Poems (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979), p. 194.
  • Langston Hughes, "I, too, Sing America." Selected Poems (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979), p. 275.
  • Langston Hughes, "New Song", A New Song (New York: International Workers Order, 1938), p. 25.
  • Langston Hughes, "The Black Man Speaks", Jim Crow's Last Stand (Atlanta: Negro Publication Society, 1943), p. 5.
  • Langston Hughes, "Freedom," Jim Crow's Last Stand (Atlanta: Negro Publication Society, 1943), p. 7.

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