Langston Hughes’ Identity in His Poems Essay

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. Artists who belonged to this trend believed that art was their weapon to fight racism and skillfully used it. Hughes’ poems Negro, My people, Daybreak in Alabama, Negro Speaks of Rivers, Let America be America Again and I, too are united by one common theme that stays actual even nowadays: African-Americans’ fight for their rights and equality and double standards. His poems are so attractive and true to life because they reflect his own thoughts, experience and approach to life and his nation.

Hughes turns to the theme of racism in many of his poems and Negro is a perfect example of anti-racist poem. Negro by Langston Hughes is a poem which speaks about life of the author and also depicts history of African Americans. 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. In this way he underlines that centuries of pain, discrimination and struggle can not and should not be forgotten. 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, 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, 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 do not only speak about past and present of African American. His poems are filled with the spirit of this race. He is proud of African-American nation and he is sure that no fights, no sorrows, no discrimination and suffering can change his nation, so unique and so strong. In the poem My People he proves it one more:

The stars are beautiful,
So the eyes of my people.
Beautiful, also, is the sun.
Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people (Hughes).

The author uses simile to make his poem more artistic and high-flown. What can be more beautiful than faces like nights, eyes and starts and souls like the brightest sun!

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 Daybreak in Alabama:

And the field daisy eyes
Of black and white black white black people
And I’m gonna put white hands
And black hands and brown and yellow hands
And red clay earth hands in it (Hughes)

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 Speaks of Rivers 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 and he makes it in a figurative way:

We’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers (Hughes).

Another his famous poem is Let America be America Again. He touches the theme of discrimination in this poem again. He reminds his readers that all people despite their race, sex or social position are equal and only knowing this truth America can become a country it is supposed to be:

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed–
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above (Hughes).

His poem I, Too is such a strong and self-determined piece of art that it makes us believe that words written on paper will be true tomorrow:

I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then (Hughes).

The author does not only show discrimination with its consequences and sufferings but he also gives a real hope in the future. The end of the poem is very strong too: I, too, am America. He repeats one more time the truth that is evident but that is so often forgotten.

Hughes poems are bright example of Harlem Renaissance, which had an important meaning for the becoming of contemporary African American literature. All his poems are connected by one theme: love to the African-American nation and fight against discrimination. Hughes depicts his beautiful nation , reminds about all sorrows of the past and does not loose hope in the better future. His style is so figurative but at the same time so plain and appropriate for readers that it makes his poems unique. Reading his poems you feel that they are written for you because they touch hidden corners of your soul. Being a poet, Hughes was also an important and active political and social fighter for African-American rights and art used to be a form which helped him to express himself. Art is always created and aimed for people and, so, creating his poems Hughes also delivered a very important message only remembering your past, being aware of your identity and caring about your future you can be proud of your nation and be sure that no obstacles will prevent it from being the best for you.

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