Langston Hughes and Claude McKay are prominent representatives of the dawn of African American culture in the first half of the twentieth century. Harlem Renaissance was a powerful movement that shaped African American literature and aimed at reinforcing the racial bias. Despite leaving a mark in American poetry and being recognized as the “voice of Harlem,” Hughes was an outsider throughout his life. Hughes is commonly referred to as the poet of folk forms and blues rhythms, who was forced to leave the United States because of his color and racial prejudice. Claude McKay also reflected the “diasporic rootlessness” in his writings and contributed to Harlem’s artistic heritage while being abroad and, thus, perceiving it from a long perspective (Chang 188). Both poets portrayed a diverse culture of African-Americans and cultivated their folk values.
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I chose two poems, such as “The Tropics in New York” by McKay and “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by Hughes, for the comparative analysis. Considering McKay’s lifelong struggle with finding a homeland, his poem substitutes for home and reflects on the multinational cultural belonging. He shares what provokes his memory about native Jamaica while standing on a sidewalk in New York. McKay looks for “old, familiar ways” and reveals how being displaced in modernity transforms the perception of the place (McKay). Hughes’ poem, in turn, presents himself in the image of Negro as a citizen of the world and a founder of civilization. According to Duki, this poem is a “reminiscence of the rivers” that nurtures his soul and embodies life and death, persistence, philosophy, and success (164). The poet represents a young man who pursues becoming one of the most outstanding poets of all times in “I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young” (Hughes). Both of these poets exemplify Modernism by comparing their racial identity against the established prejudice in America of that time and writing openly about self-identification within the African American culture.
Chang, Jennifer. “Pastoral and the Problem of Place in Claude McKay’s Harlem Shadows.” A Companion to the Harlem Renaissance, edited by Cherene Sherrard-Johnson, John Wiley & Sons, 2015, pp. 187–202.
Duki, Jacques Manangama. “The Essential Characteristics of Langston Hughes’ Poetry and Their Impact on the Congolese Conscience.” International Journal of Language and Literature, vol. 5, no. 2, 2017, pp. 162–173.
Hughes, Langston. “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” 1921. Poetry Foundation. Web.
McKay, Claude. “The Tropics in New York,” 1922. Poetry Foundation. Web.