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Emily Dickinson’s and Langston Hughes’ Literary Achievements


The analysis of the literary works and writing styles of representatives of two different eras is a unique experience that allows comparing individual authors’ approaches and identifying the key factors that influence their creative manners. As an example of comparison, the achievements of two prominent representatives of American literature will be examined – Emily Dickinson and Langston Hughes. Their creative heritage left a significant mark in culture, although from the standpoint of approaches to writing, their techniques and themes were distinctive. Life in different centuries (Dickinson worked in the 19th century, and Hughes in the 20th) influenced the themes of their works and left an imprint on their styles since Dickinson expressed her thoughts in the genre of poetry while Hughes created works in both poetry and prose. The differences in the cultural background are the key criteria that influenced the achievements of both authors in the literature and the themes and accents in their writing.

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Different Origins

The origin of the two literary figures in question became one of the main factors that influenced their work and intentions to express ideas through writing. According to Glover (2017), Emily Dickinson spent most of her life in comfort since she was born into a wealthy family and had free access to education and interaction with the cultural elites of her era. Langston Hughes, as Shukla (2018) remarks, was born in a poor family, and his work largely reflected the problems of a person who felt the hardships of a representative of the African American race. At the same time, both the figures under consideration received a good education, although, for Hughes, this path was more difficult due to the prejudices characteristic of the society of that time regarding black people. As a result, the period of the formation of this writer’s creativity was more complicated than that of Dickinson.

The perception of the surrounding world was also different for the two authors. As Glover (2017) argues, Dickinson did not have to work hard, and she had an opportunity to devote free time to reading, writing, and other sciences. For Hughes, the situation was different because, in addition to social challenges, he observed disagreements between parents, which, according to Shukla (2018), was reflected in his works. Stereotypes about African Americans did not diminish in the 20th century, and Hughes experienced this. Therefore, the author paid much attention to the cultural differences of people in his work and, as Shukla (2018) notes, reflected individual views as a person who was humiliated and segregated. Dickinson’s theme of creativity was distinctive from that of Hughes since the woman did not belong to social minorities. However, her origin, in particular, gender, also became a factor that influenced the themes of her poems. Glover (2017) gives the corresponding arguments: in the 19th century, the rights of women, even from wealthy families, were not taken into account. As a result, the ideas of freedom and gender equality occupied a significant place in Emily Dickinson’s poems.

Circle of Communication and Life Experience

As one of the significant differences that influenced the creativity of the two figures in question, the breadth of communication with different people may be discussed. According to Grieve-Carlson (2019), in her entire life, Dickinson never left the United States, despite the possibility of her family to help the daughter to study abroad. For Hughes, the situation was fundamentally different since the writer visited many different places, and, as Nolan (2019) argues, his stay in Europe left a significant imprint on the author’s worldview. After completing his studies, Hughes spent much time earning odd jobs and was forced to earn a living in a variety of ways, including working as a sailor on ships traveling to Europe and Africa. This experience obtained by him in the first half of the 20th century laid the background for his worldview and reflected on the struggle for the equality of African Americans and the condemnation of extremism. Hughes got a profession of writer after he had visited different places in the world, and this experience allowed the author to express his ideas with references and examples of other countries and cultures.

Dickinson’s life was significantly less eventful since the author was forced to lead a secular lifestyle, despite her progressive and revolutionary views. Grieve-Carlson (2019) mentions the woman’s education at the seminary and argues that, despite her church academic background, Dickinson often showed irony and even skepticism about religion. After leaving the seminary, the poetess returned to her parent’s house, where she spent the rest of her life. Such limited communication, however, did not stop Dickinson from expressing ideas about religion and human beliefs in her poems, for which many contemporaries considered her a strange and controversial personality. In addition, as Glover (2017) states, the topic of female sexuality that Dickinson often resorted to in her poems was taboo in the era of limited women’s rights. In this style, the poetess sought to protest against public prejudices, although her real contacts with people were few. A good education allowed her to gain much knowledge about the world, but her experience was significantly less rich than that of Hughes. The only possible similarity between the two authors is that they both sought to eradicate social bias in its specific manifestations and impacts.

Openness of Creativity

The differences in the achievements of Emily Dickinson and Langston Hughes were also expressed in distinctive approaches to the openness of works, and different eras of life influenced this. For instance, Nolan (2019) notes that Hughes was not afraid to demonstrate his ideas in public and was ready to share his opinions with the audience. As an example, his statement to the three million readers of “Saturday Evening Post” is cited. In this speech, the writer condemns the publication for its biased attitude towards African Americans and the distortion of the meaning of his works (Nolan, 2019). Due to his experience, Hughes understood that to be an innovator, it was essential to be heard, and he did everything possible to fight for the civil rights of the black population. Dickinson, in turn, led a significantly less public lifestyle and did not show the same social activity. As Grieve-Carlson (2019) states, the poetess expressed all her ideas through creativity and almost did not speak to a wide audience. Nevertheless, this was natural for the mid-19th century and before the significant transformations in the country caused by the Civil War.

As a result of differing views on public activity and the openness of creativity, both figures in question received different recognition during their lives. According to Glover (2017), Dickinson was distant from the outside world and all the events and knew little about the current political, military, and other conflicts, which, however, did not prevent her from being creative. Hughes, in turn, was knowledgeable about the situation in the 20th century, and the experience of his travels helped him greatly. As Nolan (2019) notes, Hughes continually raised issues related to African Americans and points out social factors affecting racial minorities. All of his works, including prose and poetry, were published during his lifetime, while most of the creative heritage of Dickinson was presented to the world only after the death of the poetess. Such differences in views on the openness of the work have several justifications – the era in which the authors lived, their social status, and some other aspects. However, when taking into account the aforementioned facts, the cultural background is the key criterion that allows comparing the works of both authors and identifying their achievements from distinctive perspectives.

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The literary achievements of Emily Dickinson and Langston Hughes are universally recognized and significant, although their work was different in many aspects, and distinctive cultural background was a major factor. Dickinson’s comfortable life and Hughes’ poor and disadvantaged existence were reflected in their works. At the same time, both authors expressed progressive ideas and, even though they lived in different eras, they were innovators of their time. Dickinson’s creative goal was promoting gender equality and the recognition of the full status of women, while Hughes fought for the freedom of the African American population. The outcomes of their work are assessed today as significant achievements, which made it possible to draw attention to acute social issues and draw public attention to the existing problems.


  1. Glover, M. (2017). I’m ceded: Sexual, social and gender role rebellion in the poems of Emily Dickinson. Articulāte, 10(2), 7-13.
  2. Grieve-Carlson, G. (2019). Emily Dickinson and the question of belief. Cithara, 59(1), 31-47.
  3. Nolan, J. (2019). Langston Hughes: Refugee in the Post’s America. American Periodicals: A Journal of History & Criticism, 29(2), 163-177.
  4. Shukla, S. (2018). “It’s that Spanish blood:” Langston Hughes imagines race in Harlem and the world. American Quarterly, 70(4), 755-775.

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