Harlem Renissance and Negritude Writers the History Term Paper

Pages: 6 (2280 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 7  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Black Studies

Harlem Renissance and Negritude Writers

The history of the African continent has been a long series of tormenting events. Some of the most important aspects that have defined and influenced its evolution however, are in strict connection with the era of colonialism and the effects this period had on the people living in Africa.

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The Black population coming from the continent was constantly perceived as an inferior race and was subjected to intense racial discrimination in the societies it came in contact with. In response to such attitudes, there were numerous movements which advocated an emancipation of the Black race and a rediscovery of their heritage. At the same time, initiatives such as the Harlem Renaissance and the Negritude constantly tried to reach out to the roots of the Black culture and promote a new vision of Africa and its people. Poets such as Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, and Countee Cullen were representative for the literary segment of the Harlem Renaissance, while Leopold Senghor and Aime Cesaire were strong voices for the Negritude movement. Nonetheless, the idea of the rebirth of the Black culture was not expressed solely through literature, but also through other artistic means. In this sense, representative is "Sankofa," a film about experiencing the essence of the physical and psychological torments of the black population in circumstances that take back the leading character into the past of her race in order to understand the present of her culture. Overall, both the poems and the film develop themes that are relevant for pointing out the Black people strive to rethink their history in order to shape their future.

There are some common themes that are dealt with in each of the writers' poems, all related to the Black culture and identity.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Harlem Renissance and Negritude Writers the History Assignment

The Harlem Renaissance writers McKay, Hughes, and Cullen try to point out reality of their culture that McKay ends up calling "fallen race." (McKay, 2007) in "Harlem shadows" he metaphorically describes the way in which his culture, the African one, is treated by the western civilization. The "tired feet" of the young girls lingering on the Harlem streets at night are a poetic image of the fact that the Black culture has been perceived in a dark perspective, similar to that of lonely girls wondering on the alleys. Also, the poet hints to the bad condition of blacks in Harlem, part of the civilized world represented by New York, which is one of "poverty, dishonor, and disgrace." (McKay, 2007) the idea of the American city as a symbol of the African struggle on the continent has also been suggested in Senghor's poems, one of which entitled "New York" expresses precisely the clash between a white Manhattan and "the more soulful Black Harlem." (Makward, 2002)

The tone of his poetry however is rather mild and in some ways detached, of a fine observer of an unfolding image. However, the idea of decadence and suffering the Blacks have had to endure throughout the decades, both during colonial times on their native continent as well as in Europe and America is dealt with in a more violent manner by Senghor and Aime Cesaire. Both of them aim at glorifying the African civilization in relation to the tremendous colonial experience of the continent. (Cesaire, 1984) However, in Senghor's poem, "Snow in Africa," the author tries to convey a message of peace, reconciliation between the black hands and the white ones, representing the African culture and the White, European oppressors. (Senghor, 1964)

Another theme is that of the glorification of the African culture which is present in different poems. Hughes associates the idea of continuous rivers to the fact that the Black culture has had a perennial existence, with a history that dates back to the time of the Euphrates, the Congo, and the Nile. (Hughes, 2007) He thus tries to point out the deep roots of the Black culture and the enormous influence it had over so many large areas. At the same time, by naming the Mississippi and New Orleans among the areas the River, expressing the essence of the African culture, flows the author suggests the strong contribution the Africans brought to the American civilization and culture. In this sense, this idea comes in connection with the generally stated fact that the American people, as seen today, represents a people of immigrants, of slave and slave owners, of joy and sorrow, elements which are embodied in every citizen of the U.S.

The depiction and identification of the areal space of the Euphrates and all the geographical places where there is a clear African influence are relevant for the description of the space which has benefited from Black culture. This attempt to show the spread of the culture, from one continent to another and to show its importance in creating a nation such as the U.S. is seen not only in poetry but also in films dealing with the Black heritage. Haile Gerima and Shirikiana Aina's 1993 film "Sankofa," by appealing to certain elements present in all poems involving the African element, the idea that the Black people must become aware of their past and embrace its individuality, in all of its complexity, in order to rediscover themselves and establish a new cultural identity, one that is above the enslaved African conception so many decades of racial discrimination had created.

There are common elements which are used by the producers in order to convey such a message. However, some of the most important ones relate to the main character, Mona, to the settings, as well as certain symbols which construct the idea of a complex message.

First and foremost, attention must be paid to the main character, Mona, a black American model, who is used by the producers as a symbol for the everyday African-American person who tries to repel its African origin in a country that has too often sanctioned the African people. Even choosing Mona's job of model is relevant for pointing out the fact that her entire attitude is somewhat shallow and her character tries to be something that she is not, as she herself cries "I am an American, I am not African!" Therefore, in the beginning, she represents everything the Harlem Renaissance and the Negritude writers stand for. Her presence in the start of the picture can be interpreted, mildly still, as the "white hands" Senghor talks about. Still, her destiny would eventually change and she would end up embracing her African past through a journey back in time, where she would face the lives of enslaved Africans, her ancestors.

The motive of time travelling is also interesting to notice. The producers use this means of projecting the character into the body of Shola, a slave on the Lafayette plantation, to make the connection between two realities. The use of this technique may be interpreted as relating in fact to the African belief in the lives of the dead, thus she can be seen as a reincarnation of an African spirit, searching for its lost cultural identity.

In the light of this complex plot, there are two different settings. In the beginning of the film, the action takes place in Ghana, a state in the heart of the African continent. However, as the main character travels back in history, the action is set on the American plantations, the place which had witnessed the suffering and enslavement of so many African-Americans. The connection between the two places can be made at the level of the metaphorical meaning of each setting. Thus, the Ghana setting represented in fact true Africa, a place which Mona could not feel and listen to, as Cullen adises in one of his poems, "Heritage" in which he presents Africa as an idyllic place, where "I lie, who all day long / Want no sound except the song / Sung by wild barbaric birds / Goading massive jungle herds...." (Cullen, 2007)

There are also some elements which relate to the symbolic level of the picture but that tend to give a certain sense of reality to the entire plot and scenario. In the first place, the title itself makes reference to a theme often used by advocates of the African cultural emancipation and African poets alike. It is not necessarily the word itself that is used, but rather its meaning. Thus, the term Sankofa stands going back and reclaiming the past in order to be able to move forward, and to understand the reasons for the evolution of the African people and the road that led to the reality facing Blacks today. Although the term is not mentioned in the poems written in this sense, Senghor, along with Cullen, and Hughes try to advice through their verse a reconsideration of the African roots. Hughes points out the spread of the African culture and its importance for the societies existing today, Senghor in his revolt against the "white hands" appeals to the idea of historical challenges Blacks had to face while Cullen expresses his… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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