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 other 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 he 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 multicultural 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' past dedication. His grandmother's first husband died at Harper's Ferry fighting 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...
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