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Posted on July 27th, 2012, by

Negro by Langston Hughes is a poem that speaks about life of the author and also depicts history of African Americans. Langston Hughes belonged to the group of Harlem Renaissance poets. The Harlem Renaissance shaped out literature in Harlem in New York City from 1920 till 1940. It was a trend in literature that focused on African-American history and relations. African-American writes expressed their political and social position with the help of art. This trend helped writers to express their identity and Hughes was among these writers. The themes of discrimination and racism are typical for the writers of Harlem Renaissance (West, 2003). Artists who belonged to this trend believed that art was their weapon to fight racism and skillfully used it.

Hughes turns to the theme of racism in many of his poems and Negro is a perfect example of anti-racist poem. This poem reflects the history of African Americans in general. The author reminds places which reflect important periods of American history and these periods are marked by racism, discrimination segregation. Hughes describes past times, humiliations and violations people of his race had to go through. He enumerates shameful facts from the history:

I’ve been a slave:
Caesar told me to keep his door-steps clean,


I’ve been a victim:
The Belgians cut off my hands in the Congo (Hughes).

These short lines speak about centuries of slavery, violence and humiliations of African Americans. Hughes uses interesting artistic device. He does not speak about event from the past in the past tense. He describes them in present tense and attributes to himself all facts from the past he mentions. This way he underlines that centuries of pain, discrimination and struggle can not and should not be forgotten (West, 2003). Each African American is a descendant of slaves of people, who had to pass through abuses and this can not be crossed out of his memory.   This memory can not be destroyed and those who try to do  this want to deprive people of their history.

By doing this Hughes shows himself, one black man, as the entire black race throughout history (Hutson, 2001, 98). The poem contains a lot of allusions. The author  speaks about the time of Julius Caesar, building of the Pyramids. Then he switches to the history of America and speaks about George Washington and contemporary American history.  Hughes is sure that only remembering all facts from the past one could continue living. He believes that national pride and identity is the most precious thing for all people and blames writers and poets who would surrender racial pride in the name of a false integration (Nichols 102). He addresses these words to all writers and poets who sacrifice  their racial identity for the sake of literary success. Hughes was named black poet   and he was proud of such name.  He believed racial identity to be one of most important distinguishing characteristics for any artist and especially for artists who belonged to discriminated races. As he himself states in his essay named The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain: We younger Negro artists now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they aren’t, it doesn’t matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too (Hughes 2001, 102). Hughes believes his racial identity to be the reason of discrimination but at the same time he regards it as a source of pride. His poem Negro perfectly reflects such an attitude. Hughes remembers all facts from the history of African American. He recognizes his past and he is proud of his ancestors.

Hughes’s poems not only speak about past and present of African American. His poems are filled with the spirit of this race. Hughes implemented special rhythms, which resembles African American blues songs. He believes that any kind of art expresses the soul of people and does his best to show this in his works (Joyce, 2004). Special music, which exists in the poems by Hughes speaks about singing soul of his people.  As he wrote in his poem

I’ve been a singer:

All the way from Africa to Georgia

I carried my sorrow songs.

Not only special rhythm and structure distinguish Hughes’s poems. His poems are rich with symbolism and allusions. He speaks on important themes and uses strong metaphors  which can not leave people indifferent.

 Negro is a poem which touches important themes of America history. In one short poem the author managed to describe the centuries of oppression and discrimination of people of his race. The poem gives short facts but special rhythm and deep symbolism make the poem very deep and touching. It can not leave anyone indifferent. Despite general themes of the poem it is also very personal. Hughes describes his own experience and puts his soul in his writing and this finds appeal in the hearts of his readers. Hughes poems are bright example of Harlem Renaissance, which had an important meaning for the becoming of contemporary African American literature.

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