Essay: Love Theme of Langston Hughes

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¶ … Langston Hughes' poetry appears to this author to center around mother and son. Due to the bad relationship with his father, he was particularly close to his mother. This was vital relationship and by extension may have reflect badly upon many of the male models (particularly his father). It is the assertion of the author that this conflict was reflected in his biracial identity as well as in the relationship with both parents and was worked out eventually successfully later on in life in his poetry.

A good example of this type of poem of the theme of love between mother and son can be found in "Mother to Son." In this poem, the mother ruminates upon the hard life that she has had, particularly as a black woman. This particular theme of love is complicated by the theme of the mulatto that runs through much of Hughes' poetry. With this in mind, this author will also center in on three of Hughes' other poems for analysis as well: "Sweet brown Harlem Girl" and "Love Song for Linda."

"Mother to Son" presents the contradictory love role of the African-American mother. She is often in a double bind with regard to her duties in her role as mother. On the one hand, she wants the best for her son which may compromise his role as a black man. On the other, she is a proud black woman who chaffs at this compromise. In 1926, Hughes wrote an article in the Nation magazine that explores the contradictory role of both parents of a family he terms as "the negro middle class" that is not only busy keeping up with the Jones family, but the white Jones family in particular. This double self-hating entendre is spelled out as follows:

But let us look at the immediate background of this young poet. His family is of what I suppose one would call the Negro middle class: people who are by no means rich yet never uncomfortable nor hungry -- smug, contented, respectable folk, members of the Baptist church. The father goes to work every morning. He is a chief steward at a large white club. The mother sometimes does fancy sewing or supervises parties for the rich families of the town. The children go to a mixed school. In the home they read white papers and magazines. And the mother often says "Don't be like niggers" when the children are bad. A frequent phrase from the father is, "Look how well a white man does things." And so the word white comes to be unconsciously a symbol of all virtues. It holds for the children beauty, morality, and money. The whisper of "I want to be white" runs silently through their minds. This young poet's home is, I believe, a fairly typical home of the colored middle class. One sees immediately how difficult it would be for an artist born in such a home to interest himself in interpreting the beauty of his own people. He is never taught to see that beauty. He is taught rather not to see it, or if he does, to be ashamed of it when it is not according to Caucasian patterns.

For racial culture the home of a self-styled "high-class" Negro has nothing better to offer. Instead there will perhaps be more aping of things white than in a less cultured or less wealthy home. The father is perhaps a doctor, lawyer, landowner, or politician. The mother may be a social worker, or a teacher, or she may do nothing and have a maid. Father is often dark but he has usually married the lightest woman he could find. The family attend a fashionable church where few really colored faces are to be found. And they themselves draw a color line. In the North they go to white theaters and white movies. And in the South they have at least two cars and house "like white folks." Nordic manners, Nordic faces, Nordic hair, Nordic art (if any), and an Episcopal heaven. A very… [END OF PREVIEW]

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