December 13, 2010
The Harlem Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned the 1920s and 1930s. A major factor leading to the rise of the Harlem Renaissance was the migration of African-Americans to the northern cities. Between 1919 and 1926, large numbers of black Americans left their rural southern states homes to move to urban centers such as New York City, Chicago, and Washington, DC. This black urban migration combined with the experimental trends occurring throughout 1920s American society and the rise of a group of radical black intellectuals all contributed to the particular styles and unprecedented success of black artists. What began as a series of literary discussions in lower Manhattan (Greenwich Village) and upper Manhattan (Harlem) was first known as the 'New Negro Movement.' Later termed the Harlem Renaissance, this movement brought unprecedented creative activity in writing, art, and music and redefined expressions of African-Americans and their heritage. Historians disagree as to when the Harlem Renaissance began and ended. The Harlem Renaissance is unofficially recognized to have spanned from about 1919 until the early or mid-1930s. Many of its ideas lived on much longer. The zenith of this "flowering of Negro literature", as James Weldon Johnson preferred to call the Harlem Renaissance, was placed between 1924 (the year that Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life hosted a party for black writers where many white publishers were in attendance) and 1929 (the year of the stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression). Some common themes represented during the Harlem Renaissance were the influence of the experience of slavery and emerging African-American folk traditions on black identity, the effects of institutional racism, the dilemmas inherent in performing and writing for elite white audiences, and the question of how to convey the experience of modern black life in the urban North. Among the authors who were writing during this time were Langston Hughes and Claude McKay. Their poems, Harlem and Harlem Shadows, portray their disappointment and frustration with the blatant racial inequalities that were still as prevalent in the 1950s as they were in the 1870s. There are many similarities in the poems Harlem and Harlem Shadows, as well as in the two authors themselves. Both Harlem and Harlem Shadows take place in Harlem; both Claude McKay and Langston Hughes wrote these poems during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s; both poems are written as a means to protest the treatment of blacks after World War II and before the Civil Rights era of the 1960s; Claude McKay and Langston Hughes both spent time in Russia and were attracted to communism, but did not join the Communist Party; both authors use veiled anger and hatred in their poems; both authors attended college; both authors encouraged African-Americans to take pride in their culture; both authors are “rumored” to be homosexual (although there is very little factual evidence to prove it); both authors died on May 22 (McKay in 1948 and Hughes in 1967) of heart-related medical problems; . There are also many differences between the two poems and authors. Langston Hughes incorporated blues and jazz music into his poem Harlem, while Claude McKay wrote the poem Harlem Shadows as a regular poem; Hughes was born in America, while McKay was born in Jamaica; McKay wrote Harlem Shadows in six-line stanzas of iambic pentameters, while Hughes used an irregular meter in the lines of Harlem; Harlem Shadows brings to mind “overcrowded and dilapidated tenements, unemployed or underemployed menials, and pervasive social problems (including prostitution, gangsterism, illegitimacy, gambling, and drug addiction) existing in the shadow of New York, with its consumerism, wealth, and bright lights” (enotes.com, 2010, p.1), while Harlem implies “a response to dreams of...