Thesis: Langston Hughes

Pages: 6 (1982 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature  ·  Buy This Paper

Langston Hughes

The Impact of Langston Hughes's Life on His Work:

Racism, Jazz and Travel, and Work

A man with a famous past, Langston Hughes one could say that Langston Hughes was destined to make a difference in the African-American community. His great-great uncle was John Mercer, the first Black American elected to public office ("Langston Hughes"). At his birth, young Hughes's parents could not have known that someday their son would trump his great-great uncle's own famousness. Hughes parents did have high expectations of him -- they sent him to Columbia to become an engineer -- but his father was not supportive of his decision to pursue literature and poetry. Still, Hughes family legacy was deep within in hum, and with the dedication that he gleaned from Mary Langston, his grandmother, and the other famous abolitionists and social activists in his family he continued to pursue poetry (Rampersad para. 3). Although Rampersad states that "Hughes struggled with a sense of desolation fostered by parental neglect," he goes on to argue that this isolation was eventually what would lead Hughes to books, compelling the blooming poet to surround himself with the literary world. The impact that literature had on Hughes must have been powerful, as his body of work was quite impressive. By the time he became a student at Columbia, he had already written "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" (Rampersad, para. 2). Upon his early death from cancer in 1967, Hughes had produced everything from plays, musicals, and operas to children's poetry, essays, novels, and poetry. Much of this work had to do with racial discrimination, a theme that played prominently not only in his life, but also in the lives of his forefathers. Still, while it may be the primary issues of Hughes's life that affected his writing, it is not the only one. Indeed, through an examination of racism and race issues; music, jazz, and literature in the life of Langston Hughes, it is easy to see how these forces in Hughes's life impacted his work.

Probably the most important issue on Hughes's life was racism and race issues. Rampersad states that when Hughes first began to write, he "committed himself both to writing and to writing mainly about African-Americans" (para. 1). Certainly, his choice in study and writing methods suggested this. His first published poem was "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," which was featured in a publication edited by W.E.B. Du Bois. Loyalty to his race and interest in the issue of abolition and African-American rights was in Hughes's blood, as his relatives had been at Harpers Ferry, had worked tirelessly to fight for abolition, and who had been famous and influential in the African-American communities across the nation (Rampersad para. 3). Despite his rich lineage, Hughes's reaction to racism was his own. And he did respond to the issue or racism and racial discrimination, only using the pen rather than the microphone.

In fact, Hughes's poetry and essays were greatly influenced by the ideas of race and racism that he had been taught to abhor. In poetry, Hughes often uses the visual images and sound patterns associated with good poetry in order to capture his audience's attention, focusing it on the racial topic at hand. This can be seen quite clearly through one of Hughes's earliest and most popular poems, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers." In this poem, Hughes begins with the statement, "I've known rivers" (1), and continues to list the rivers that he has known. First, he writes that he has known "human rivers," and the rivers that are even older than those, rivers such as the Euphrates, the Congo, the Nile, and the Mississippi (Hughes 1-8). While this might seem, at first, like a more natural topic than one about racism and conflict among the races, the rivers are all those having something to do with African-American culture. The first three rivers are in Africa and the Middle East, suggesting Hughes's roots. The Mississippi, however, is in the United States, suggesting both his present and his past in this country. The images of the rivers and the time imagery that he uses, saying that he has known "rivers as ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human rivers" (Hughes 1-3), show both the eternity and the harshness of Hughes's struggle, as well as the struggles of other African-Americans. By saying, "My soul has grown deep like the rivers," Hughes brings the focus back on himself and suggests the timelessness of his struggle. Thus, what first seems like it might be a poem about nature or geography reveals itself to be, truly, a poem about race and racism. Thus, the issues of racism with which Hughes had to deal with in his own life, in addition those that his relatives faced, clearly impacted his poetry.

Hughes's essays, too, reflected the profound impact racism and the idea of race had on his life. After leaving Columbia to work at some uneventful jobs while simultaneously traveling the world, Hughes went back to school to study at Lincoln University, a primarily black school (Rampersad para. 7). There, he must have been exposed to the ideas of great black essayists and thinkers. He was also influenced in his poetry by black poets Paul Laurence Dunbar and Claude McKay (Rampersad para. 5). Thus, having been surrounded by these ideas, in addition the importance of race that was impressed upon him when growing up influenced his essays. One of the most stunning examples of this is Hughes' essay "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain." In this essay, Hughes suggests that the predominate value in many black families is the fact hat they want to be white. Being white is associated with being good, and the black family often just assumes that white families are better than they are, more advanced. Thus, Hughes writes that the black poet who comes from this family wants not to be considered a Negro poet, but instead just a poet. Hughes interprets this to mean that the black poet wants to be white (para. 1-3). Instead, Hughes writes that the black poet should be proud of who he or she is and celebrate his or her uniqueness instead of aiming to be like others that do not share the poet's unique background.

Thus, through this essay, the impact that racism and the importance of race had on Langston Hughes's life can be easily seen. Having studied intelligent black thinkers, and coming from a long line of family members who celebrated thief African heritage and the uniqueness of being black, Hughes felt that blacks' desire to write like other poets was just another form of racism, another institution by which society was aloud to discriminate against African-Americans. Thus, Hughes used the form of essay to express the impact that racism had on his own life, in addition to the lives of the other blacks and black poets that he knew. The essay suggests that Hughes's literature not only reflects the fact that Hughes's life impacted his writing, but also that Hughes recognized this impact and used his writing in such a way that he could seek to change those aspects that negatively impacted his life. Thus, the issue of racism impacted Hughes' life greatly as the importance of his race was not only impressed upon him by his long line of activist family members, but he also studied some of the greatest black minds while at Lincoln University. The fact that race is a prominent topic in Hughes's poetry and essays shows that Hughes's life greatly impacted his work.

While race and racism had a great impact on Hughes's life, which went on to impact his work, another unique aspect of his culture was important to Hughes -- jazz. Hughes enjoyed black music, finding it different from the drabness of white music. He had a similar affinity for gospel ("The Negro Artist"). Rampersad writes that it was his "devotion to black music" that "led him to novel fusions of jazz and blues with traditional verse" (para. 6). In fact, Hughes' appreciation for jazz was great, an aspect of his life that certainly impacted both his poetry and prose. Of poetry, critiques note the importance of jazz in the style of Hughes' versus. Lund calls him "the voice of Harlem and the poet laureate of African-Americans," based primarily on the fact that he "imbued his lines with the echoes of jazz and gospel" (Lund para. 1). Further, Lund notes the coincidence between Hughes' move back to Harlem and the publication of his first book, which came out in 1926. Lund states that Hughes "found the rhythm his words needed," while "sitting in clubs, listening to blues and jazz" (para. 5). Thus, jazz was a major component of Hughes's own life and culture, a feature of that life and culture that is deeply embedded in his poetic works. Hughes' appreciation for jazz has also made its way into his other… [END OF PREVIEW]

Four Different Ordering Options:

?
Which Option Should I Choose?

1.  Buy the full, 6-page paper:  $28.88

or

2.  Buy + remove from all search engines
(Google, Yahoo, Bing) for 30 days:  $38.88

or

3.  Access all 175,000+ papers:  $41.97/mo

(Already a member?  Click to download the paper!)

or

4.  Let us write a NEW paper for you!

Ask Us to Write a New Paper
Most popular!

Raymond Carver's Short Story "The Cathedral Term Paper


Social Times and the Culture of New Term Paper


African-American History Sharecropping Was Not a Direct Term Paper


Night Life in Harlem During Renaissance Essay


African-American Soldier's Experience in Vietnam Term Paper


View 30 other related papers  >>

Cite This Thesis:

APA Format

Langston Hughes.  (2009, April 11).  Retrieved July 19, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/langston-hughes-impact/22909

MLA Format

"Langston Hughes."  11 April 2009.  Web.  19 July 2019. <https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/langston-hughes-impact/22909>.

Chicago Format

"Langston Hughes."  Essaytown.com.  April 11, 2009.  Accessed July 19, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/langston-hughes-impact/22909.