Langston Hughes and National Identity

Topics: African American, Black people, Race and Ethnicity Pages: 5 (1405 words) Published: August 3, 2014
Paper 1 DRAFT
Jennifer Gustafson

Langston Hughes was an American social activist, novelist, playwright, columnist and is recognized as one of the most significant poets of his time. Hughes was the first truly successful African American poet and his writing was extremely influential for the African American community during the Harlem Renaissance. He felt a commitment to speak out against black oppression and recognized that, at that time, the United States was a place to be deeply criticized, if not rejected altogether. This paper will analyze Hughes' writing and his struggle with national identity.

Langston Hughes portrayed through his writing what life was like for African Americans. Hughes wanted to depict his negro community in the most accurate light, without fear or shame. He did not want to take into consideration what anyone (black or white) would think of his work, and only wanted to provide an accurate description of what life was like for the black community. A reviewer for Black World noted in 1970: "The poet occupies such a position in the memory of his people precisely because he recognized that 'we possess within ourselves a great reservoir of physical and spiritual strength,' and because he used his artistry to reflect this back to the people. He used his poetry and prose to illustrate that 'there is no lack within the Negro people of beauty, strength and power,' and he chose to do so on their own level, on their own terms." This review was done by a black writer, who recognized the influence that Hughes's writing had on the black community. Black people fed off of Hughes's passion and honesty. The bluntness and bravery in his writing caused a domino effect. Other people were willing to stand up against black oppression because he did. Hughes gave his people strength to find their individuality. In the essay "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain" Hughes stated, "One of the most promising of the young Negro poets said to me once, “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." And I was sorry the young man said that, for no great poet has ever been afraid of being himself. And I doubted then that, with his desire to run away spiritually from his race, this boy would ever be a great poet. But this is the mountain standing in the way of any true Negro art in America—this urge within the race toward whiteness, the desire to pour racial individuality into the mold of American standardization, and to be as little Negro and as much American as possible." (937). This essay appears to be urging African Americans to take pride in their black identities. There were many stereotypes placed on any race that wasn't white during the Harlem Renaissance. Langston Hughes found truth in his identity, and he wanted to pass on that courage to others. He wanted to help his people find their identities. He was personally offended and saddened by his black brothers and sisters not taking pride in their racial individuality. This essay portrays a strong feeling of impotence, as if a great giant mountain of racism is standing in front of national unity.

In the speech, "To Negro Writers" Hughes wrote of the obligation that all African American writer's had to expose the inequalities that black people faced in mainstream America. To expose the white labor leaders that kept the labor unions closed against Negro workers. To expose war, and how every black man should willingly die for the American nation although they do not attain the right to vote, or run for diplomatic services. To expose "...all the economic roots of race hatred and race fear." (Hughes 939). Hughes felt he had a moral obligation to confront the injustices that his negro community faced. By giving this speech, he was giving African Americans the courage to confront the injustices that...

Cited: "I, Too." Poetry for Students. Ed. Sara Constantakis. Vol. 30. Detroit: Gale, 2009. 97-117. Gale
Virtual Reference Library. Web. 8 July. 2014.
Hughes, Langston. “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain." Compact Literature 8th Ed. Laurie G Kirszner and Stephen R. Mandell. Boston: Wadsworth, 2013. 937-938. Print
Sheri Metzger Karmiol, Critical Essay on "I Too," in Poetry for Students, Gale, Cengage Learning, 2009.
Black World, June, 1970; September, 1972; September, 1973.
Hughes, Langston. “I, Too.” Compact Literature 8th Ed. Laurie G Kirszner and Stephen R. Mandell. Boston: Wadsworth, 2013. 926. Print
Hughes, Langston. “To Negro Writers." Compact Literature 8th Ed. Laurie G Kirszner and Stephen R. Mandell. Boston: Wadsworth, 2013. 926. Print
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