The world history has proven that each nation and community in difficult periods of time needed the outstanding figures who would inspire the whole nation and become its symbol. The black community has got such a person in the beginning of the twentieth century. Langston Hughes has become not only the activist, who fighted against slavery, the great poet and the founder of the jazz poem genre, but also the soul of the whole humiliated black American community. Each of his poems awakens the proudness for his nation and the spirit to fight for freedom, because the black Americans deserve it not less than the white ones. The idea of freedom, equality, fairness towards all nations, and patriotism for the black community becomes the main feature of his work. Among numerous examples, one can choose the poems “The Negro Speaks of River”, “Harlem”, and “Life is Fine”. All these three poems are unified not only by the same main hero who observes the world around, but by the same theme, which was close to the author – the sad fate of the black Americans in the twentieth century.
“The Negro Speaks of River” can be referred to as one of the most famous Langston Hughes’ poems. The positive attitude towards the black Americans and his eloquence make the reader trace his deep affection to the people whom he describes (Mehta, 2011). The central image of the poem is the Mississippi River, which had inspired the poet when he was travelling by train. The author connects the Afro-Americans to four great rivers of the Earth – Euphrates, Congo, Nile, and Mississippi. He tells that their souls have become “deep like the rivers” as their community has a long history full of different events. Hughes shows that the black community has existed “as long as rivers” (Mehta, 2011). As they were free and enslaved, “bathed in the Euphrates”, “built huts near Congo”, “raised the pyramids above the Nile”, “heard the singing of the Mississippy”, the main hero has become strong and wise (Hughes, 1999). This means that he has learned to become such a person thanks to the black nation to which he belongs. The glorification of the black people, referring to their history using the symbolic images of the ancient river is a unique way to inspire the black Americans and show their superiority. Regardless of the contemptuous attitude to these people, Hughes tries to teach them to remember their history and not to despair or lose hope. The period of life when the poet had written this poem can be defined according to his poem as the time “when dawns were young” as he was only 18 (Hughes, 1999). However, the age was not an obstacle to be highly emotional about his people. He acknowledges his strong feeling of the racial affiliation by the usage of “I”, when he means the whole black community, which is a figure of speech called metonymy. It points out that the theme of roots is central in this Langston Hughes’ work. However, it is essential to emphasize that this theme is also central in many other of his poems.
“Harlem” is another short poem, in which Langston Hugh referred to the prejudices and unfair attitude towards the black representatives of the American society. The poem was written in 1951. Although till this time, as a result of the Civil War, the slavery was abolished and Afro-Americans even got rights to vote, no social equality could be traced in the society: different facilities for people with different colour of skin, special back sits in buses, even different restrooms for black. All these prejudices, which have filled the United States, have pushed the writer to raise the issue of a dream. Hugh highlighted that the representatives of the black community could not only live as those who were white, but also could not dream as their wishes were mostly neglected. Even the young gifted talents, who were African Americans, were ignored, and the society suppressed all their dreams from the very beginning (Bonner, 2000). As a result, one can see that the poet uses the rhetorical questions to bring his idea to the reader. The usage of such strategy emphasizes that officially no slavery existed, but in reality the racism in the society would not let the African Americans feel free (Bonner, 2000). The poem is filled with numerous comparisons of a black dream to a raisin, a fester, food, heavy load (Hughes, 1999). The similes and indirect description of the dream tell the reader of its doomness. He inspires black people to fight for their rights and freedom and white people to release the society from prejudices. Otherwise, the dream of the black community will “dry up like a raisin”, “dry sore”, sag or explode, because no matter how sweet and pure it is, the society and people with prejudices will never let it come true (Hughes, 1999). Those actions which are deferred usually disappear. Therefore, the author states that racism annihilates people’s dreams and hopes, and pushes people not to postpone actions and fight against racism.
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The poem “Life is Fine” differs from the previous ones as it emphasizes the hardships and importance not only of the life of the black people, but of all humanity. In this poem, Hughes demonstrates the idea that death is the solution to all problems. Like in his poem “The Negro Speaks of River”, Hughes associates the nature and water with deep reflections. However, this time, the reflections on life are not related to the history of the nation, but to all people who live on the Earth. Hughes highlights that none should “die for love” as people are “for living born” (Hughes, 1999). The story described in the poem shows that the author has come to understanding of the importance of life after he tried to commit a suicide twice: when he jumped into the river and sank, and when he jumped down the elevator (Hughes, 1999). The reader can feel the strong emotions described by the poet. He even uses exclamatory marks to emphasize the strength of the feelings that overwhelm in his soul as he says, “I stood there and I hollered!”, “I stood there and I cried!” (Hughes, 1999). These lines show that a person should struggle. It does not matter how difficult life can be, but people should not give up, they should live to love and to struggle as they were born to live. The repetition of the phrase “Life is fine” emphasizes the main idea of the author. In the time of depression or melancholy, one should not stop. Giving up is always easier than moving on and struggling; none can escape from reality, and suicide is not a right decision. Although the question of life value is not referring to the black people, the motive of struggle and different obstacles which a person should conquer reminds of the black American’s humiliation.
In conclusion, one can find much in common between three poems, which were analysed above. Firstly, directly or indirectly, Hughes developed the theme of struggle for happiness and against prejudices as the only right way to social justice in each of the poems. In “The Negro Speaks of River” the historical experience and wisdom of Afro-Americans is praised. As he feels very close to each representative of the black community, he regards his roots and the history of Afro-Americans as definitive to show that these people deserve to be treated as equal by white Americans. In “Harlem”, Hughes emphasizes that the dreams of this great community should not be deferred as there are not less talented people among the black Americans than among the white ones. Finally, in “Life is Fine”, the value of life and struggle is pointed out. Therefore, if reading these three poems together, one can regard them as the main values, which are praised by Langston Hughes: the wisdom of Afro-Americans, the dreams, and the struggle against prejudices.
Langston Hughes has managed to represent those sufferings of the black community representatives through showing the most genuine emotions and worries in his poems. His poetry reflects the culture of the African Americans. He tried to do his best to depict life of people who have gone through numerous obstacles. Through his poems, Langston Hughes brings the idea that life is sacred no matter what color of skin a person has. The poet feels deeply his affiliation to African American community and uses the image of himself as symbolizing this whole nation through almost all of his poems. Using the simple and emotional language makes his phrases strong and easy for comprehension. Therefore, Hughes has not only showed how he worried about the black community fate, but inspired its representatives to be proud of him and of themselves.