Langston Hughes: A Poet for the People

by Mrs. Thurnau

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Langston Hughes ("Hughes-1")

Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri on February 1, 1902. He was born to parents of mixed race and into a time when race was a difficult issue. Langston's father moved to Mexico, seeking to escape American racism and his mother moved around looking for work. He was raised by his maternal grandmother who instilled a strong sense of racial pride in her grandson, despite the social climate of the early 20th century. Langston was elected as class poet in elementary school and believed it to be an act of stereotyping because his teacher believed that all African Americans had rhythm ("Writer"). During high school, Hughes wrote for his school yearbook and discovered a love of books. It was during this time that he wrote his first "jazz poem" ("Hughes"), a lively, free form, emotional style of poetry inspired by jazz that he helped introduce to the poetry world.

Hughes attended Columbia University, studying engineering until 1922, when racial prejudice drove him out. He had more interest in the neighborhood of Harlem than school, so he left to find his passion. Hughes worked at odd jobs until he became a crewman on the S. S. Malone. This allowed him to travel to West Africa and Europe. Hughes lived for several years in Paris, becoming active in the Parisian black community before returning to the United States. He continued to work doing random jobs until he was discovered as a "new negro poet" by the poet Vachel Lindsay, who helped him get published. Hughes then attended Lincoln University, an African American university, and graduated with a B.A. in 1929 ("Hughes").

Hughes was first published in The Crisis, an African American publication, in 1921. The poem, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," became his signature piece. He continued writing, working with many other poets, novelists, authors, etc. Hughes spoke of the rights of the African American people and also stressed that "black was beautiful" in a time when that was very unpopular. With other young artists, Hughes created a circle called the "Talented Tenth," a group of young African American artists seeking for change in segregated America. Hughes, along side prominent figures such as Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay, and Countee Cullin, created the publication Fire!, designed for young African Americans who were looking for a change ("Hughes").

Hughes lived a long life and continued to be an influence in the artistic world. He died in 1967 and the spirit of his message lives on today ("Hughes").

Poetry Analysis


"I, Too, Sing America"

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"
Then.

Besides,
They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed--

I, too, am America.

Analysis


Hughes was an influential figure in the fight for African American equality during the Harlem Renaissance. Hughes spread the word of perseverance and equality, as well as the idea that "black is beautiful" through his poetry (Hughes). And it is through his poetry, that Hughes showed the themes of fighting against social injustice that were prevalent during the Harlem Renaissance. One of the the poems that this idea is most apparent in is "I, Too, Am America." It is through his use of strong imagery and symbolism, that Langston Hughes shows that African Americans will one day be equal and have their place at the table of America.

Hughes uses strong imagery in the use of words like "darker" (2), "strong" (7), and "beautiful" (16). These common adjectives may not seem special, but help to create the tone of "black is beautiful," a theme that Hughes often used. They also help to create a progressive story of being in the dark, remaining strong, and, in the end, achieving the true beauty of freedom. It shows how the African American people were encouraged to be strong and continue on in good spirits, fighting in their own way until they achieve their goal of equality.

Another poetic device that Hughes uses to share his theme of equality and endurance is through the symbol of the table. In the poem, Hughes says "Tomorrow,/I'll be at the table" (8-9). This is not only stating that some day African American people will not be sent to the kitchen to eat and will be invited to be in the light, but also is stating that they will have a say in the direction of the country. The table is often used, symbolically, to represent having a voice and the means to speak out and have your opinion heard and valued. By being at the table, Hughes is saying that African Americans will have a voice and not be forced to hide it in the dark any longer because they "too, [are] America" (17)

Langston Hughes was a great poet and a strong social voice. He used his poetry to sing out for those who often don't have a voice and to try to introduce equality to a segregated U.S. His voice sang down through the ages as African Americans fought for equality. He has always been a voice for change and will always be a champion for those who seek a seat at the "table."


Works Cited

Hughes, Langston. "Langston Hughes Poems: "I, Too, Sing America"." Famous Poets and Poems - Read and Enjoy Poetry. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2011. <http://famouspoetsandpoems.

"Langston Hughes-1." HennessyHistory. N.p., 19 Apr. 2009. Web. 7 Apr. 2011.
<http://hennessyhistory.wikispaces.com/Langston+Hughes-1>.

"Langston Hughes." Wikipedia. Wikipedia.org, n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2011. <http://wikipedia.org>.

"Langston Hughes, Writer, 65, Dead." New York Times 23 May 1967: n. pag. New York Times Archive. Web. 11 Apr. 2011.