Last updated: May 11, 2019
Topic: ArtPoetry
Sample donated:

Q: Please discuss the concept of an African American identity in one or two of Langston Hughes’ poems.

Langston Hughes celebrates black life and culture through his works. In the Twentieth century America, people born with darker skin color suffered from numerous racial issues and limitations. The African-American were discriminated against and killed mercilessly, as well as obligatory to slavery.  Langston Hughes, being all too familiar with the pain and anxiety being experienced during that time and upon hearing the sentiments to which they allude, raised his voice through his poems.

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Being active in the Harlem Renaissance, he was able to write poems which concepts reflects an African American identity. “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”, “Dream Deferred” and “I, Too” to are three poems which reveals the true identity of Hughes as an African-American which has a strong sense of racial pride. His voice emanates true spirit of his people and felt deep compassion for all other races, their next destination was not retribution but to dream and sustain peace. Through his poetry, he promoted equality, he condemned racism and injustice and he celebrated African American culture.

In Langston Hughes’ poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”, he examines some of the roles that blacks have played throughout history. Ultimately, the poem asserts that in every one of these aspects the black people have been exploited and made to suffer, mostly at the hands of white people. The poem is written entirely in first person, so there is a very personal tone, even though the speaker symbolizes the entire black race. The examples of each role cited in the poem are very specific, but they allude to greater indignities, relying on the readers’ general knowledge of world history. To convey the injustice that has taken place, Hughes utilizes the symbolism of the speaker, and alludes to people and things in history, such as George Washington and the Egyptian pyramids.

The line “I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins” (DiYanni 995) antedate his exploration of all races identit. The first stanza of the poem employs the word “rivers ancient” in order to trace back the roots of humanity and the blood that we all bleed. This is how Hughes symbolizes his awareness of his own identity, translating all existence into one root, where in the beginning all mankind should call each other allies.

On the birth of this poem, the weight of segregation and discrimination is oppressive, but in most of the black characters it leads to resignation rather than rebellion. The African-American live in reception to build the pyramids and was lulled into sleep peacefully. “My soul has grown deep” (DiYanni 955) meaning that his realization of the ties that exist in all races brought him wisdom and awareness of his own identity. Although the African has build pyramids and are discriminated at that time, instead of having anger and hatred, they opt to  embrace the western civilization, “Euphrates”. The last stanza, which repeats the first line, adds a rhythm into this poem, created a resounding affect like an echoes in the reader’s mind.
Reading his mind out loud, Langston created another famous poem entitled “Dream Deferred”. This is his way of broadcasting his idea on the Negros having postponed their dreams could escort them to the path of ruin. With rhetorical questions as a stimulus to transport his idea and intends to get digested with personalized answers. His journey starts from the core of everybody’s living passion, dream. He also implies that deferred dream will not heal or recover by itself, while the reality lays on the contrary effect. Dream will rot, “Does it stink like a rotten meat?”(DiYanni 994) if not soon realized. Specifically on the Blacks who lived in a time where racial discrimination is present and the society  is  reinforced by racist laws.  He is conveying words how thinning the chance of success is in realizing their dreams. Hughes’s intention is to warn African American people like him about the negative aspect of delayed dreams. He is also reminding people that the African-American shall not die out of desperation but to rise even higher. Using similes to compare the properties of reality and objects if abandoned for a long time, “like a sore”, “like a heavy load” (DiYanni 994). Those visualization falls into the category of imagery technique too.

Another great poem by Hughes that reflects his African American identity is his poem “I, Too”. It is a portrayal on the harsh treatment of the master to the servant.  Hughes’s clearly initiate and gently demands for acceptance from the Americans in this poem. Claimimng to be part of an African American race he calls himself “the darker brother” (DiYanni 996). In this poem, Langston taught his people and all races the beauty of Africa and their strength. The title pulls out a sense of unity and summons a great strength and bravery. Speaking as a slave who submits his body but not his soul. He stood proudly, without any self-denial, recognizing his own beauty, dazzling like a lotus born under harsh circumstance, but able to flourish “And grow strong” (DiYanni 996). Though he knew the prevalent inequality establishments, while they deserve the same right as all other Americans, he did not go blast in rage, “But I laugh, And eat well, And grow strong” (DiYanni 996).

Langston through his three works gives us an insight to the concept of African-American identity. Where they suffered from long time aggravation, enduring much pain, only for they are born under a different skin-tone. However, living on their dreams with positive attitude, they introduce themselves proudly without allowing themselves consumed by hatred.