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Literature developed during the Civil Rights Movement in America has always attracted audiences, and there are poets and authors who have made significant contributions to the creation of a specific literary style of this time. Langston Hughes is a well-known American poet whose work became especially well-known and endearing during the Harlem Renaissance era. Furthermore, Hughes is regarded as a founding father of this literary revolution that has forever altered American literature. He was one of the first writers to experiment with jazz style in great poetry. Furthermore, he is considered as one of the architects of the American literary revival known as the Harlem Renaissance. Thesis: The art of Langston Hughes belongs to the period of Harlem Renaissance, which was the starting point of development of modern America, free from bias and prejudice; therefore, works of Langston Hughes reflect views and ideas of this significant époque.
History of Harlem Renaissance
Harlem Renaissance or New Negro Movement is a cultural movement in the United States in the period 1920-1930, led by outstanding African-American writers, poets and artists (Aberjhani & West 23). What is the major idea of this movement? It is well-known that the Renaissance is an epoch of spiritual and cultural flourishing, symbolizing the transition from the Middle Ages to the New Time. The cultural movement Harlem Renaissance received such name, because the center of this movement was one of the districts of New York, Harlem, which was inhabited by African Americans. The second reason was flourishing of the African-American culture that has given many talented and outstanding writers such as Langston Hughes, Claude Mackay, Zora Neil Herston, and such remarkable artists as Louis Armstrong and others (Aberjhani & West 25). The cultural movement of The Harlem renaissance had a huge impact on the culture of the United States as a whole. It was the period when a new image of an African American emerged: the image of educated, talented, and gifted person. The Harlem renaissance also paved the way for the further fight of the African-American population for their rights. The art of Langston Hughes was remarkable part of the process of development of new American culture, as he made great contribution to the development of views and ideas about freedom and struggle that preoccupied minds of many African Americans.
The art of Langston Hughes in the period of Harlem Renaissance
Western literature science is rich in researches devoted to the creative work of Hughes. It includes dozens of monographs, hundreds of articles and reviews. Specialists developed different parts and aspects of this heritage and tried to find connection between his works and the period of Harlem Renaissance development. Therefore, significant interest of researchers is attracted to the bright destiny and creative way of the writer. Scientists carefully studied the reviews of contemporaries about Hughes, his surviving correspondence, autobiographical works The Big Sea, 1940; I Wonder as I Wander, 1956 (N/A. 3). Thanks to this, interesting facts were opened from the life of the poet and his environment from that period.
It is a well-known fact that Hughes was one of the creators and ideological fathers of Harlem Renaissance; therefore, his works are discussed in the frames of this particular period. Even though it is unpopular for the researchers to find the ideas of Negro Renaissance in the art and works of its representatives, it is necessary to discuss how these ideas found their reflection in the novels and poems of Hughes (Long 16).
The beginning of this period was very rich in works and poems, which reflect the ideas of the period. One of the most remarkable and truly fruitful (in terms of ideas) is the poem Harlem (Dream Deferred).
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore –
And then run? (Berry 15)
This poem continues to describe exactly the major ideas and concepts of Harlem and the Harlem Renaissance in the 20s and 30s (Berry 15). Scholars state that this poem is one of the most famous of Hughes’s, since it contains the oft-quoted phrase "dream deferred." This very phrase summarizes the major idea of the American Dream that has been cherished by all African Americans of that period. In this poem Hughes managed to describe the notion of American Dream, as a delayed hope for bright future. This was something put off that dream for better times, that will be free from slaver, racism and prejudice in the USA. They say that Harlem is a soul of the Harlem Renaissance and black identity during that period (Long 18).
The period of Harlem was prominent for Hughes, as he did not dare to demonstrate his viewpoint openly. He was one of the poets who showed his opinion in the forms of poems, which contained ideas of Hughes’s contemporaries regarding the necessity to fight for the rights of the Black population and show everyone that America is a land for all. His poems were considered a call for an action to fight for equality and beauty of African culture. One of the most famous poems of Hughes that tells about the desire for equality is Itoo, in which Hughes demonstrated the major ideas of Harlem Renaissance good times for Africans will come: Tomorrow, I’ll be at the table When company comes. Nobody’ll dare Say to me, “Eat in the kitchen,” Then. Besides, They’ll see how beautiful I am And be ashamed – I, too, am America (Berry 17)
These poems are not only expression of Hughes’s desires and ideas, but the demonstration of the inspirations of the whole period, Harlem Renaissance.
Ideas of Harlem Renaissance in Hughes’s novelty
In addition to the poems, demonstrating ideas and inspirations of the poems and artists of the Negro renaissance, it is necessary to admit that these ideas were reflected in the novels of Hughes. The culture of Africa has a century-old history and is demonstrated in the works of all African American writers and poets. It has found reflection in the works of the Harlem Renaissance representatives, who claimed that African culture deserved to have the same place in the world literature, while African people deserve civil rights and privileges.
The novels of Hughes do not contain any calls for civil movement; they are simply devoted to the depiction of the beauty and richness of Africa. Hughes wanted to underline that Americans should not deny Africans, because the latter were brought in the rich land and deserve the same life and privileges, as the whites do. One of the first Hughes’ novels, devoted to Africa and African people, is Luani of the Jungles (Baker 32). This is a love story of a young American student with the African woman. Except depicting traditions and way of life of African continent, Hughes wanted to underline that Africa has rich culture that has the right to be assimilated with American culture. He underlined his idea that African people are not less developed and rich people; therefore, they deserve the same rights and have to be rescued from the ever-lasting slavery, prejudice and bias.
The life and struggle of all Africans, living in America, is depicted in the novel African Morning (1936) (Baker 34). Although, the novel is devoted to the tragedy of the boy, the son of a black African woman and Englishman, the author wanted to underline the feeling of loneliness of most Africans in America, because they are restricted and denied to demonstrate their love for Africa and glorify their own country in a hostile America. This novel is a representation of feelings and ideas of most representatives of Harlem Renaissance, who tried to show that African Americans deserve living in a country free from prejudice and slavery.
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The period of Harlem Renaissances is a remarkable time in the history of America, as it opened great and talented writers, poets and artist to the world. Langston Hughes is one of such authors. His contribution in the development of Harlem renaissance is hard to deny, as his works contained ideas of all representatives of that period. Moreover, his works, novels and poems, were calls for action for African Americans to fight for their freedom and rights to live in the country, common for all.
Aberjhani & West S. L. (ed.). Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance. Checkmark Press, 2003.
Baker, Houston A. Jr. Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance. The University of Chicago Press, 1987.
Berry, Faith. Langston Hughes: before and beyond Harlem. Lawrence Hill, 1983.
N/A. “Harlem Renaissance The Blossoming of African American Culture in the 1920s”. Issues and Controversies in American History, vol. 2, no. 6, 2013, pp. 1-13
Long, Richard A. “The Genesis of Lockeʼs The New Negro.” Black World 25, no. 4, 1976, pp. 14–20.
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