The Struggle of African Americans to Derive Meaning and Identity in African American Literature: A Sociological and Biological Criticism
The period 1900s to the 1950s features an increased volume of works of art by African Americans, with these ranging from music, visual art, dance and literature (Jones 4). Jones refers to this period as “the Harlem Renaissance”, a period through African Americans literature writers developed and emphasized on the heritage and identity of the African Americans, giving meaning to what it meant to be an African American. Most especially focused on the struggle that African Americans had to face in order to assert their identity and position in society. This struggle for meaning and identity is strongly expressed in James Baldwin’s short story “Sonny’s Blue”, Langston Hughes’s poem “The Negro speaks of rivers” and Lorraine Hansberry’s play “Raisin in the sun”. All of these work written by African Americans document how various African Americans lived their lives, how they struggled to make their lives better in a world that seemed to be against the progress of African Americans and how they derived meaning from their lives and experiences. Using a sociological and biological criticism as a way to analysis, it can be noted that each of the three literary works encompass the struggle of African Americans to derive meaning and identity into their lives as African Americans given their disadvantaged position in society. In all of these three pieces of literary works, the authors highlight the struggle that the African Americans faced in society, especially during the Harlem Renaissance period as they struggled to establish their positions in society. In Langston Hughes’s poem “The Negro speaks of rivers”, emphasis placed on the resilience of the African American people. Hughes uses important rivers as imagery that highlights the exploitation and slavery of the African America people. It evoked survival, suffering, endurance and achievement for the African American people. For instance, in all the poems, despite the fact the each of the rivers may be giving connotations of slavery and exploitation through colonialism of black people in Africa, these rivers, Leach (12) asserts that all these rivers are described in positive light. The phrases in the poem, “I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young” (Hughes 5), “I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep” (Hughes 6) and “singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy boson turn all golden in sunset” (Hughes 8-9) highlight these rivers as comforting irrespective of the suffering that each may also be associate with. This also a similar case in Lorraine Hansberry’s play “Raisin in the sun”, where the core theme that Lorraine explores is the disadvantaged position that African Americans had in society. Hansberry explored the bad conditions that African Americans lived in ghettos and further the issues of segregation of whites from Black with to equal opportunity for proper housing. Hansberry engages on the merciless urban lives, discrimination and restricted access to services such as education that African Americans were faced with. For instance, Walter notes that “Once upon a time freedom used to be life—now it’s money. I guess the world really do change.” (1.2), where the implication was that although the African Americans were now free from slavery, they still faced other hurdles and problems such as social or financial freedom, all of which have been as a result of societal restrictions on what African American could or could not do. Furthermore, similar Hughes’ poem, it references the Mississippi river to reflect the slavery period, where Mrs. Johnson notes that although the turbulent Mississippi days were over, African Americans still faced racism and were treated badly as compared to whites. However, the play does not fail to show the advancement that African Americans have...
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Leach, Laurie F. Langston Hughes: A Biography. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 2004. eBook Academic Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 13 Nov. 2013.
Reilly, John M. "Sonny 's Blues": James Baldwin 's Image of Black Community." In Critical Insights: James Baldwin. Salem Press, 230-238.
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