Langston Hughes was a Black American born in 1901. He was popularly known for his art that incorporated poetry, prose, autobiography, drama and essay writing. Hughes focused on highlighting existing stereotypes, which rendered Blacks vulnerable to discrimination. Even though he had the political inclination, he failed to publicly declare his position. The works of Hughes are known to raise controversial issues amongst scholars and other artists.
The essay will focus on outlining the difference in Hughes’s approach in his early works with the later ones. Black controversy in relevance to poetry work by Hughes will be highlighted. The role played by Hughes in bridging the gap between Whites and Blacks will also be featured.
Hughes’s career development is acknowledged worldwide. He began writing at a time when racism was at a high level in America and sought ways to solve the situation. Controversy emerged in the approach that Hughes used to highlight the existing gap. The early works of Hughes appeared to secure a large audience amongst the blacks. There was, however, a transition in the feelings fostered by some of his works that he developed later.
Despite the debates and critics that are associated with major works of Hughes, he was successful in reducing the level of racism in America. The difference between the early and later works of Hughes is in the content and designed goal. At the beginning of Hughes career, the focus was on the Black beauty. However, as Hughes progressed, he began highlighting faults among his fellow Blacks.
Jazz and Poetry
Hughes employed a rich application of Jazz element in his poetry. He contributed significantly to the development of Jazz and other related styles of music like Bebop. It should be noted that Blacks were closely associated with Jazz since it was their way of expressing the unspoken. Racism was characterized by the suffering of Black Americans. For instance, Blacks were not allowed to freely speak in public.
As a result, Blacks adopted the use of art to be able to freely express their feelings in an entertaining manner. In this regard, Jazz was essential in the identity construction of Black Americans.
Use of Jazz by Hughes can be interpreted as promotion of identity formation, as well as promoting cultural appreciation among the Blacks. Hughes used the element of Jazz, to be able to identify with fellow Blacks and at the same time, communicate with Whites (Schwarz 68).
Some of the poems by Hughes had vernacular words. Hughes got to promote his culture by incorporating his language in poetry. In this regard, culture appreciation that would reduce racism would be advocated. It should, however, be noted that there were concerns regarding the use of local language when targeting the White race. Some of the young scholars felt that this was an underrepresentation and would worsen the existing gap.
According to them, Blacks were supposed to bring themselves closer to the Whites, as much as possible. Hughes, on the other hand, perceived the young poets as dodging from their culture rather than facing their challenge. The earlier works of Hughes clearly showed that he was proud to be a Black American.
The idea to incorporate native aspects in his poetry, like by use of Jazz was to ensure that his success would be for entire Black Americans (Schwarz 69)
Hughes was popularly acknowledged for moral support that he accorded Black Americans, at the time when racism was rampant. Even though he applied aspects of Black Americans in his poetry, there were scholars who perceived this as an act that would worsen the situation of the Blacks.
Hughes focused on the lives of the Blacks who were in the working class and highlighted issues that negatively affected their lives. In this regard, Hughes highlighted issues like poverty that faced the Blacks.
Even though there were those scholars who felt encouraged by the approach used by Hughes, others perceived his works as being outdated. Those who were against Hughes approach felt that justice could only be attained by highlighting the positive side of the Blacks.
There was a black controversy between early works and those that Hughes compiled later. In the earlier works of Hughes, a sense of pride for his nationality was highlighted. Hughes’s later works, on the other hand, were characterized by pessimism and realism (West 160).
A Poet for the People
In the early works, Hughes highlighted his pride and admiration for his fellow Black Americans “The night is beautiful, so are the faces of my people” (McMahan, Day, Funk and Coleman 553). Furthermore, the associated black with beauty and compared natural phenomenon with Blacks. Even though Hughes was a poet at the time when many privileges were withheld from Blacks, he was set to represent his people in the society.
Hughes encouraged the Blacks to move on with society building process and advocated for racial consciousness. Hughes was a poet for the people since he focused on the low life that the Blacks in Harlem led. “In Harlem, where doors are doors of paper” (McMahan, Day, Funk and Coleman 554). He used rich imagery in highlighting the devastating situation in Harlem, an approach that stirred different feelings in society.
Young poets were not happy when the low life that Blacks led was highlighted and made known to the Whites. According to the young poets, racism would become worse after the Whites learned of the real situation in Harlem. The Blacks would appear inferior to the White race.
Hughes approach was, however, not meant to encourage racism, but rather call for interventions. He featured low life scenarios since he wanted to represent the minorities. Even though racism had very devastating effects on the Blacks, he rebuked hatred that was among Negroes. Hughes challenged that Blacks had to realize that they were one and focus on the common goal of attaining freedom and overcoming racism.
“I do not need freedom when I am dead (McMahan, Day, Funk and Coleman 557).” According to Hughes, Negro writers who failed to represent the situation of their fellow Negroes were not poets for the people. Focus on the few Blacks who were privileged, would show that Negro poets were fleeing from the real life that they led. The act of fleeing from the challenge faced by Negroes would not solve the problems they faced.
Do Right To Write Right: Aesthetics of Simplicity
In the later works of Hughes, the emphasis was on the Negro artists who seemed to flee from the real situation. Hughes used the aspect of pessimism and realism to highlight the interaction between Whites and Blacks (West 162). Later works by Hughes were characterized by instances of tragedy as well as humor.
Hughes emphasized that the art of writing was crucial in the structuring of a society’s perception. The Negro writers were expected to be honest and represent their people in the best way possible. One way through which racism could come to an end would be by highlighting the real situation and extent of the devastating effects among the Blacks.
Hughes associated Black Americans with simplicity and advocated for unity as being the major way to overcome racism. In this regard, Hughes was doing the right thing by highlighting the real conditions that the Black Americans faced. Beauty was an aspect that Hughes used in the early works and applied to his later works.
Even though there were works that highlighted his sense of disappointment, especially with young poets, the focus was on representing his fellow Negroes in the best way possible. According to Hughes, simple things like unity among the Negroes were enough to overcome the devastating effects presented by racism (Meade 94). This is one of the reasons why Hughes was silent about his political inclination.
The early works by Hughes were characterized by pride and reference for his fellow Black Americans. Hughes used beauty and other cultural products to represent the situation of Black Americans. In this regard, Hughes promoted cultural awareness and appreciation that reduced racism. The later works by Hughes focused on realism that was pessimistic to some extent. As a result, major works by Hughes are referenced to date.
The reputation of Hughes spread vastly, as compared to that of his contemporaries. Hughes had different goals from those held by his fellow mates who were in the working class.
The element of Jazz was centripetal in identifying with the Blacks and freely expressing concerns. In this regard, Blacks felt represented or incorporated into the works of Hughes. Moreover, Hughes was able to represent his people to the entire society and shape the literature of Black Americans.
McMahan, Elizabeth, Day, Susan, Funk, Robert and Coleman, Linda. Literature and Learning process, Boston: Longman. Print.
Schwarz, Christa. Langston Hughes: A True ‘People’s Poet, India: Indiana University Press. 2003. Print.
Meade, Rita. “Hughes, Langston. Lullaby for a Black Mother.” School Library Journal 59.2 (2013): 94-98. Print.
West, Sandra. Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance, Boston: Checkmark Press. 2003. Print.