The Langston Hughes Affect Langston Hughes was deemed the “Poet Laureate of the Negro Race,” a fitting title which the man who fueled the Harlem Renaissance deserved. But what if looking at Hughes within the narrow confines of the perspective that he was a “black poet” does not fully give him credit or fully explain his works? What if one actually stereotypes Hughes and his works by these over-general definitions that causes readers to look at his poetry expecting to see “blackness”?
There are those factual events in Hughes’ life, which are proven in documentation, records and testimony, but there are also ther phenomenons (such as Hughes multiracial ancestry) that may have had some influence on him and his works as a young man. My aim for this paper is to examine the biographical background of Langston Hughes, how this affected his works and how his works have affected others. Hughes’ racial identity was formed from both a myriad of influences that accumulated over his life and also by the shadows of events that happened before his birth.
Hughes’ young life was segmented into distinctly different times with distinctly different influence. The relative he lived with and what city, state, or country e was residing in all seemed to be constantly changing and constantly dividing up his life from childhood through young adulthood. Consequently, events in each segment of Hughes’ life contributed to his ever evolving self-identity. From a young age, Hughes’ was aware that he had a multicultural background, and this realization undoubtedly played a major role in forming his self-identity.
Hughes inherited his mother’s Indian, French, and African ancestry, and in his young years, Hughes was greatly influence by this side of his family. Similarly, Hughes’ father’s linage was ulticultural African and European. Two of Hughes’ paternal great-grandfathers were white; one was a Jewish slave trader and the other was a Georgian distiller. Due in part to this ancestry, in Hughes’ adult years a friend observed that the author repeatedly used the theme “of the ‘tragic mulatto,'” and Hughes eventually “admitted that he identified with such a doomed young man,” (Rampersad 3).
Throughout Hughes’ childhood and young adulthood, he dealt with a variety of specific white and black ancestral and cultural influences, (Rampersad 1-30). Hughes struggled with almost constantly changing surroundings and influences throughout his childhood years. His parents divorced shortly after Hughes was born, and his mother took her son from his birthplace in Missouri to his new home in Kansas, where young Hughes would live with his grandmother. Hughes spent most of his youngest years in Lawrence, Kansas, with his grandmother, who was active in the local African American community.
Hughes grew up with both his grandmother’s present involvement in African American affairs and also stories of family members’ ast dedication. His grandmother’s first husband died at Harper’s Ferry fghting with John Brown, and her second husband, Hughes’ grandfather, had been a prominent Kansas politician during reconstruction. By the time Hughes lived with his grandmother, her own prominence had degraded and she was left old and poor and unable to give Hughes many advantages in life, (Poet Laureate of Harlem).
What Hughes’ grandmother was able to pass on to him, though, was a sense of pride about his ancestors’ struggle to accomplish positive social change for African Americans. Ironically, while Hughes was being influenced to respect and be proud of his black heritage, he was often the only black child in Kansas’s white dominated schoolrooms, (Dickinson 9). Therefore, even as a child, Hughes began to be aware of the contradictions between the black heritage he possessed and the white culture he lived in.
Alone with his aging grandmother, and confused about being abandoned by both of his parents, Hughes grew up feeling rejected and, consequently, became insecure and unsure of himself. As Hughes grew older, his self-identity continued to volve under ever-rocky circumstances. The struggle that Hughes encountered in finding his own cultural identity as a multiracial man with multiracial influences is reflected in his works. Furthermore, the ambiguities of Hughes’ cultural allegiance make him struggle to reconcile the differences between the black voice and perspective and the white voice and experiences that his poetry can reflect.
This struggle for unity and reconciliation, as well as the battle to find his own identity, is illustrated in Hughes’ poem “Cross. ” The arrator in this poem wonders where his place is as a man “being neither white nor black” (10) and it can be reasonably inferred that this confusion was mirrored by Hughes’ uncertainty about what voice his poetry should take. Author Richard K. Barksdale states, “There is no doubt that Hughes had intended to probe the psychological impact of miscegenation in his play (Mulatto) Just as he had done in his poetry (Cross),” (193).
One way to reconcile this conflict was for Hughes to write poetry that spoke both from his black side and from his white side, consequently creating oetry that “delivered a powerful impact to both black and white audiences, (Kent 23). This duel voice is very evident in one of Hughes’ most famous works, “The Weary Blues. ” Hughes used Jazz and the blues as motifs for representation of duality and double-consciousness in his early Harlem Renaissance poems.
This is evident in works such as “Weary Blues” (1925), “To Midnight Nan at Leroy’s” (1926), and “Laughers” (1927). Hughes-the original Jazz poet (Redmond 191)-became a vital part of the vanguard black arts movement called the Harlem Renaissance. Hughes was merging at time when W. H. Auden, Carl Sandburg, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Ezra Pound were the major American voices being heard, and the voices of eighteenth and nineteenth century black poets Phyllis Wheatley and Paul Laurence Dunbar were considered an anomaly.
Though initially an enthusiast for the Harlem Renaissance, Du Bois called into question the impact this arts and letters movement would have on black people and their recent release from bondage. Although it was Jean Toomer’s unique prose poem Cane that launched the first phase of this movement in 917, two preconditions made this unprecedented mobilization of talent and group support in the service of racial arts and letters movement possible: demography and repression. In this context, Hughes’s work was profoundly shaped.
This voice of angst is in fact exemplified by early works like “Migration,” “The South,” and “Shadows. ” These poems attest to his own personal “blues” that resounded with that of the vast black population, while later works point toward his ultimate desire to overcome struggle and celebrate life and its inherent beauty. For Hughes the issue at hand was not the common” people who create the “folklore” that often represents black culture, but the black “high society,” whose race consciousness is tied to “the aping of things white” (“Negro Artist” 92).
This made him relatable in the black community. In conclusion, Langston Hughes can not be categorized as “Just another black writer”. He was a pioneer in the Harlem Renaissance. His multiracial background had a huge impact on his work, which in turn had a huge impact on how his work affected others. His work continues to be studied in classrooms and on college campuses around the world. Bibliography Beavers, Herman. “Dead Rocks and Sleeping Men: Aurality in the Aesthetic of Langston Hughes. ” The Hughes Reviews. Ed. R.
Baxter Miller. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Cooke, Michael G. Afro-American Literature in the Twentieth Century: The Achievement of Intimacy. Cumberland, RI: Yale University Press, 1984 Davis, Arthur P. “The Theme of Harlem in Langston Hughes’s Poetry. ” Harlem Renaissance. Ed. William S. McConnell. Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press, 2003 Ducan, Melba J. The Complete Idiots Guide to African American History. Indianapolis, IN: Alpha Books, 2003 Gaines, Ann Graham. The Harlem Renaissance in American History.
Berkley Heights, NJ: Enslow Publishers, Inc. , 2002-03 Hughes, Langston. “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain. ” Harlem Renaissance. Ed. William S. McConnell. Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press, 2003 Lowney, John. “Langston Hughes and the “Nonsense” of Bebop” American Literature 72. 2 (January 2000) 357-385 Miller, R. Baxter. The Art and Language of Langston Hughes. Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 1989 Tracy, Steven C. Langston Hughes and the Blues. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois press, 1998