It cannot be doubted that Langston Hughes is not just one of the most illustrious Black Writers but also one who had a very strong contribution to the early struggles of the Black Americans against discrimination and segregation in the country. Hughes exceptionally combined the power of his art and his political voice in advancing his stand to the pressing issues of his day, most notable of which was the assertion of the rights of Black Americans and of their stature in the economic, political and cultural spheres of society (Hughes). This movement was then tagged as the Harlem Renaissance movement owing to the fact that it gained steam in Harlem, New York (Harlem Renaissance).
Hughes contributions are part of a widespread movement which greatly dented the systemic operations of slavery and forced labor. This coincided with the rise of the Black Americans when it comes to carving a niche for themselves which can prove to be equally viable as their White counterparts have seen a leeway. But as hinted above, their struggle was not yet complete, in fact far from it. Still, the efforts that have been launched in order to combat slavery and the impacts of such undertakings cannot be underestimated. The Harlem Renaissance movement, to which Hughes is a vocal and leading figure, was arguably one of the more immediate follow-ups to the curtailed progress of the anti-slavery campaign of the previous century (American Literature). In the forthcoming parts, we will take a look at the larger context of these racially-marked confrontations and the role of both the Harlem Renaissance in general and Hughes’ in particular in this immense complex of events.
At this point, we will look at two of Hughes’ works, which were specially chosen to exemplify not just his literary prowess, but also the kind of commitment he displayed here by using his works to articulate his social calls.
“Thank you, Ma’am.” is my favorite story written by Langston Hughes. In this story, Hughes was able to straddle not just the issue of racism (Hughes). What is well-admired in this piece is the way Hughes was able deceive the readers in a good way, by using Black characters and then playing with their expectations only to shatter them. When readers might be expecting a story about the discrimination of Black citizens again – the characters were a Black woman and a Black child – a plot twist rendered this prejudgment highly insufficient to match the complexity of the story. Notably, the story had a woman and a child as its characters, as abovementioned and this is interesting because they belong to another set of categories which are generally viewed and actually disenfranchised in their own ways too. Hence, the very selection of characters seem to divert the attention away from Black-ness alone and bring up other issues like gender and social ills that harm children. Also, Hughes found the perfect balance between the racial and love of this story. From this story, we can see, decency and love are the most wonderful thing in the world and they can cure all difficulties and hardships.
The two Black characters Roger and Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones found solace with each other, even temporarily as they wade through early-20th century America which was yet to embrace their like in the fullest sense. Instead of the usual stories about the discrimination of Blacks – not bad in its own right – we see here added layers not just of the Black’s problems but also of the Black people themselves. As Roger typified, they are the usual ‘weak’ and timid ones but his being a child showed this charming innocence of the Blacks too, something that can beget the question of why people like them should be treated badly? On the other hand, Mrs. Luella’s sympathy towards the child can be better read not as an essentializing move to show only that Blacks can sympathize with each other but Blacks are human beings who can share pity or empathy just like all humans potentially can do. In that sense, the story is highly tinged with humanism which propounds that Blacks are just like everyone else, in more ways than one. Hence, instead of being divisive, this remarkable story by Hughes points to the commonalities among Blacks and every other human being.
The reason I make this choice to use the stories of Hughes as my artifact for my blog is that, I’m a big fan of reading and Hughes’ readings have triggered my resonance. The contexts are easy to understand, and I can hear his voice from his written words. These readings draw my attention and make me start thinking. Just because of him, I started thinking about dream. From him, I know that the dream is the water we drink to survive, and the future we want to rich. If we look far we will go far but if we stick looking under our feet we will end and no one will know that we existed. Also, he helped me know that, black people did a great work on crossing color barriers and setting up in stereotypes.
“American Literature.” Reference & Research Book News 18.4 (2003): 252-256. Academic Search Complete. Web. 17 Nov 2015.
“Harlem Renaissance” by Nathan Irvin Huggin Review by: Robert Sklar The Journal of American History , Vol. 59, No. 1 (Jun., 1972), pp. 190-191
Hughes, Langston. “The Negro artist and the racial mountain.”The Nation. 122.23 (1926): 692-694.
hughes, langston. Thank you Ma’m. N.p.: Child’s World, 2014. 2-24. Print.
BY Wenran Zhang