Harlem Renaissance

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Harlem Renaissance Poets
Assignment #2- week 8
World History II, HUM 112
Professor Gail Gregory
May 24, 2012

The following paper focuses on the two poets of the Harlem Renaissance – Claude McKay and James Weldon Johnson. Their role and importance within the literary movement is identified, and the major themes of their poems, If We Must Die and The Prodigal Son are highlighted.

Harlem Renaissance Poets
Claude McKay’s was a leading figure of the Harlem Renaissance. His literary heritage is multifaceted: vernacular poems glorifying peasant life in Jamaica, militant poems addressed to American white authority, honest stories of black life in America and Jamaica, and, finally, philosophical reflections on the notion of “double consciousness,” which was the cornerstone of the black person’s attempts to survive in a racist society. The poet’s writings render his contempt for racism and bias, which makes its advocates loathsome and miserable. The essence of McKay’s works was brightly described by Arthur D. Drayton, in his essay Claude McKay’s Human Pity: In seeing . . . the significance of the Negro for mankind as a whole, he is at once protesting as a Negro and uttering a cry for the race of mankind as a member of that race. His human pity was the foundation that made all this possible. (Claude McKay, n.d.)

James Weldon Johnson was an outstanding personality, too. According to some critics, his psychological depth and demand for aesthetic coherence caused the Harlem Movement. His works The Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man and God’s Trombones brought to black literature fresh criteria of realism and artistry. Robert A. Bone, in his study The Negro Novel in America, claims that Johnson was “the only true artist among the early Negro novelists” who managed to “subordinate racial protest to artistic considerations” (Beavers, 2000). Johnson’s another merit embraces his innovative studies (in the 1920s) of black music,...
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