Analysis of Langston Hughes's Messages in His Poems

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Words: 952 |

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5 min read

Published: Jun 29, 2018

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Words: 952|Pages: 2|5 min read

Published: Jun 29, 2018

Analysis of Langston Hughes’s Messages in His Poems
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The essay explores the writings and activism of Langston Hughes during the Harlem Renaissance era, with a focus on his essay "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain." Hughes, a prolific writer, is celebrated for infusing black pride into his works and incorporating jazz into his poetry. In his essay, Hughes criticizes artists who distance themselves from their racial identity to appease both fearful African Americans and white audiences. He acknowledges that white audiences often engage with black art for stereotypical entertainment.

Hughes passionately encourages African American artists to embrace their cultural heritage and create their own artistic space. He shares an encounter with a young poet who aspires to be recognized as just a poet, not a "Negro poet," revealing the internalized racism and desire to assimilate into white culture.

The essay underscores Hughes's commitment to preserving African American culture and heritage. He uses his poetry, like "I, Too" and "Freedom," to advocate for racial equality and challenge the submissive attitude of some African Americans. Ultimately, Hughes's work and activism highlight the importance of confronting racism and embracing one's cultural identity, echoing the sentiments expressed in "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain."

Langston Hughes was one of the most prolific writers of Harlem Renaissance era. Hughes's works are best known for the sense of black pride they convey and Hughes's implantation of jazz into his poetry. In 1926, Hughes wrote the critically acclaimed essay, "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain" for The Nation magazine. In this essay, Hughes scolds artists who shy away from their racial identity to satisfy fearful Negros and white audiences. Hughes's message to white audiences recognizes their interest in black art for means of stereotypical entertainment. Some of Hughes's most powerful poems, including "I, Too" and "Freedom," serve as keen evidence of the blasphemous behavior of Negro artists and white audiences of his time.

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What is significant about Hughes's essay is why it was written. The purpose was to embrace black culture, and for black artists and authors to create their own field of art to it. Hughes though had a poet say to him “I want to be a poet not a Negro poet , meaning, I believe, I want to write like a white poet meaning subconsciously, I would like to be a white poet, meaning behind that, I would like to be white”. This is powerful because it shows how society has put into this poet head that blacks write different from whites therefore showing the stereotype of black writers. The example Hughes used in his work was the background of the man who wanted to be a white poet. What he got from that was that the young poet was striving toward being white. This was because he had different privileges that most blacks did not have. This included coming from a middle class family and a school that was unsegregated. What was crucial about this situation was that Hughes explained that he didn’t get to enjoy the value, and life of his own people because he often separated from them. So based on his environment he felt that this was why the poet embrace whiteness rather than who he truly was. Also Hughes response regarding poets in general was that the racial world of black people are just as interesting as any other world. Also he felt that when it comes to being an artist people should be able to choose what they decide to do, and not be afraid of it.

In "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain," Hughes speaks of a young Negro poet who has proclaimed he does not want to be an African-American poet, but instead, just a poet. Hughes associates this comment with the Negro poet meaning he would rather be a white poet and a whiter person. Nina Baym cites the evidence of Hughes's outspoken protest on this matter, stating, "Early and late, Hughes's poems demanded that African Americans be acknowledged as owners of the culture they gave to the United States and as fully enfranchised American citizens” (Baym 2027). If this is so, it means that the young Negro poet understands the prevalent issue of racism in the United States at that time. This goes to say that the young Negro poet believes that the work of a white person is more easily accepted than that of a Negro.

Hughes wanted African-American artists to show pride in their racial legacy. He recognized that many artists were fleeing from their culture. Most of Hughes's poems are a result of his own life experiences and encounters with racism. Therefore, Hughes is not ashamed to be an African-American artist writing about African-American culture for an African-American audience. Hughes also uses jazz as a staple of his poems and their connections to African Americans. Hughes states that he writes so many jazz poems because "jazz to me is one of the inherent expressions of Negro life in America” (1512). Hughes's use of jazz guarantees that the artistic elements of the Harlem Renaissance and African-American culture will be preserved despite Negros that are ashamed or fearful of its power.

Langston Hughes originally wrote the poem "I, Too" in 1925. At this time, America's society was racially discriminating and the operation of this particular society was backed by its racist laws. In "I, Too," Hughes sends a simple but strong message in only 18 lines. Overall, the poem demonstrates the courage and strength of a Negro/slave fed up with the way white people treat him. In the first line -- "I, too, sing America" -- the speaker clarifies that although he is a Negro, he is American and sings the national anthem just as any white man does. In this poem, Hughes speaks for equality and freedom for the Negro just as he does in "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountains." The poem "I, Too" is proof that no Negro should be ashamed of his race or the products of his race to please white America.

Langston Hughes's poem "Freedom" was originally entitled "Democracy." Hughes addressed his views about freedom and democracy in the poem. Hughes states that he does not want to wait for freedom to come to him, and he is bothered by submissive Negros who say, "Let things take their course / Tomorrow is another day." In his book The Art and Imagination of Langston Hughes, R. Baxter Miller speaks of Hughes's literary imagination, stating that, "it is the process by which he mediated between social limitation and the dream of freedom” (Miller 2). Hughes was aware of the social limitations placed upon his people, and his poetry became his outlet to have the voice of an activist. "Freedom" and Hughes's literary imaginations are proof of Hughes's argument in the "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain."

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Because Langston Hughes was one of the most popular writers of the Harlem Renaissance era, he used that advantage to speak to his people through his work. He also used his position to raise awareness about the issues of the African-American community and to address those who were afraid of progress. Hughes's works reflect his life experiences and those of his people, and he believed this to be enough to encourage others that the current social status of the African-American community needed to be changed. Hughes did not shy away from the issues others were afraid to discuss. He even took a shot at white America by informing them and his African-American audience that whites only read African-American literature for stereotypical entertainment. Everything Hughes stood for and against is implemented into his poetry; "I, Too" and "Freedom" are good examples, and these particular poems are evident of Hughes's argument in "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain."

Works Cited

  1. Baym, Nina. "Langston Hughes: 1902-1967." Introduction. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 7th ed. Vol. D. New York: W.W. Norton, 2007. 2026-27. Print.
  2. Baym, Nina. "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain." The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 7th ed. Vol. D. New York: W.W. Norton, 2007. 1512-13. Print.
  3. Hughes, Langston. "I, Too." The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 7th ed. Vol. D. Nina Baym. New York: W.W. Norton, 2007. 2028. Print.
  4. Hughes, Langston. "Freedom." The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 7th ed. Vol. D. Nina Baym. New York: W.W. Norton, 2007. 2034-35. Print.
  5. Miller, R. Baxter. "Introduction." The Art and Imagination of Langston Hughes. Lexington (Ky.): UP of Kentucky, 2006. 2. Print.
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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Analysis of Langston Hughes’s Messages in His Poems. (2021, September 08). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 20, 2024, from
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