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    Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance Essay

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    Harlem Renaissance was undoubtedly a cultural and social-political movement for the African American race. The Renaissance was many things to people, but it is best described as a cultural movement in which the high level of black artistic cultural production, demanded and received recognition. Many African American writers, musicians, poets, and leaders were able to express their creativity in many ways in response to their social condition. Until the Harlem Renaissance, poetry and literature were dominated by the white people and were all about the white culture.

    One writer in particular, Longboats Hughes, broke through those barriers that very few African-American artists had done before this period. Longboats Hughes played a major role and was a tremendous influence on African-American culture throughout the United States during the era of the Harlem Renaissance. He has written many poems that were influenced during the Harlem Renaissance, Trumpet Player and Harlem. From my perspective these poems expressed his rhythmic style and his connection to the Harlem Renaissance.

    In the sass’s and early sass’s, there was an African American cultural movement hat took place in the neighborhood of Harlem, New York. It is variously known as the Harlem Renaissance, the Black Literary Renaissance, or the New Negro Movement. This movement developed at the end of World War I in 1918, blossomed in the mid to late sass’s, and faded in the mid sass’s. There were several things that contributed to the rise of this time period, after segregation was made legal in the South, it made living conditions intolerable for African-Americans. They were powerless before the law and less than human in the eyes of many whites” (Harlem Renaissance 954). This caused a great migration to the North which seemed absolutely necessary for African-Americans.

    There was an industrial explosion occurring in the North and it was creating a demand for labor. Many settled in northern cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia, and Cleveland, but New York was the destination for most. This migration to the North was a huge breakthrough for African-Americans and was the beginning of the cultural movement, the Harlem Renaissance.

    The Harlem Renaissance was also considered as a literary movement led by the African-Americans. It was a time of African-American creativity in literature, music, dance, and art. This movement created amazing opportunities for African-Americans, they were able to pursue their hopes and dreams without being discriminated against. They persevered and finally received what they hoped and dreamed of from white society. African-Americans received better education, more employment opportunities, and were more acknowledged in the performing arts. African Americans worked not only with a new sense of confidence and purpose but also with a sense of achievement never before experienced by so many black artists in the long, troubled history of the peoples of African descent in North America” (Harlem Renaissance 953).

    During this time the black culture was becoming more popular and Americans because it was the first major step towards equality. Many African-Americans began to write during this time and began getting noticed for their writings. Some common themes represented during the Harlem Renaissance were the influence of the experience of slavery and emerging African-American folk traditions on black identity, the effects of institutional racism, the dilemmas inherent in performing and writing for elite white audiences, and the question of how to convey the experience of modern black life in the urban North” (Wisped, Harlem Renaissance). In many of the writings that I have read from the Harlem Renaissance era, they truly depicted their struggles and experiences through their writings.

    There were numerous famous poets that emerged from this era, Longboats Hughes was one of the most famous poets and writers of this time. His poems were mainly about his heritage and also the experiences of Africans. Hughes was a great writer with much diversity in his types of writings. His poetry was a way for us to see a picture of urban life during the Harlem Renaissance, the habits, attitudes, and feelings of his oppressed people. These poems did more than veal the pain of poverty, it also illustrated racial pride and dignity. His main concern was the uplift of his people, whose strengths, resiliency, courage, and humor he wanted to record as part of the general American experience” (Wisped, Longboats Hughes). Hughes was not ashamed of his heritage and his main theme, “black is beautiful,” was expressed and shared to the world through his poetry. During the literary movement, music was central to the cultural movement of the Harlem Renaissance, which was a main feature of Hughes poetry.

    He had an important technical influence by his emphasis on folk, Jazz, and blues rhythms as the oasis of his poetry of racial pride. Hughes used this unique style of writing because it was important to him to have the readers feel and experience what they were reading, “to recognize the covert rhetoric in lyric means to appreciate the overlap between emotive and discursive poetry. Rooted in song, the lyric reestablishes the ritual of human communion” (Miller 52). The poem that I felt reflected Languor’s lyrical style and expressed the struggles of his people was, “Trumpet Player”.

    After reading it many times quietly, aloud, and with music I was able to truly understand the meaning that was portrayed through his poem. The trumpet player in this poem was “The Negro’ who sat on the stage, playing his trumpet, and telling us his story about the past and present struggles of his life. In the first stanza where Longboats mentions “Has dark moons of weariness Beneath his eyes”, tells me that he has been through many things throughout his life and by looking at him you can see the struggles he has faced.

    The line that follows gives you an insight to what he remembers and his violent past, “Where the smoldering memory of slave ships blazed to the crack of the whips about his thighs”. After reading the first stanza you’ve learned about the trumpet player and the life that he has lived. “The Negro’ continues to play “with the trumpet at his lips, has a head of vibrant hair tamed down, Patent-leathered now, Until it gleams like Jet- Were jet a crown”. In this stanza I felt that Longboats showed the beauty of the trumpet player despite the struggles he has faced.

    With music playing an important role in Languor’s style of writing and in the trumpet player’s life, he expresses this in the fire”. The music that the trumpet player plays is like “honey’ to him, it is easy and eels good, “mixed with liquid fire” meaning it is strong and powerful at the same time. Longboats goes on to explain how important the trumpet is for the trumpet player. He describes the rhythm as “ecstasy, distilled from old desire”, by using the word “ecstasy’ Longboats expresses how moving and pleasurable the music is to the trumpet player. Distilled from old desire” reflects that the trumpet player has always had the desire to play, and even though his desire has aged he still has it within his soul to play. Within the fourth stanza Longboats goes deeper into detail about how deep the desire within the trumpet player really is. Desire, That is longing for the moon, Where the moonlight’s but a spotlight In his eyes”, I felt that in this line Longboats is telling us that the trumpet player longs for great things as high as the moon, but for him it is unreachable and will only be a spotlight in his eye.

    He also compares his desire, “longing for the sea, where the sea’s a bar-glass, sucker size”; it is another way of telling us that his desires, hopes, and dreams are as big as the sea, but living the life of oppression it will only be the size of a small glass. The fifth stanza allows us to create an image in our mind what the trumpet player looks and eels as he is playing the trumpet. He is standing there with his Jacket that has a “fine one-button roll”, playing his trumpet without reading music from a page. Does not know Upon what riff the music slips”, I saw this line to be powerful, the trumpet player plays and creates music from within his mind and soul, his gift of music is so profound it emanates right out of him without reading a single note. “Its hypodermic needle to his soul”, Longboats also describes the intense feeling he gets as he plays, almost like a drug, maybe even painful to his soul. “But softly, as the tune comes room his throat, Trouble Mellows to a golden note”, this last stanza defines for us why the trumpet player plays.

    Even though he has faced oppression, a violent past, desperation, and struggle the trumpet player uses the music to mellow his soul and convert his pain to “a golden note”. Throughout this poem Longboats Hughes was able to express using his Jazz-like structure and musical flow, the struggles, past and present, that his people have faced throughout their life. Another poem that I felt truly depicted the feelings of African-Americans during the Harlem Renaissance era is, “Harlem (Dream Deferred)”. It is a poem about the dreams slaves had while being on the plantations as well as in the streets of Harlem.

    Throughout the poem, we are not quite sure what the dream is but we are aware of the negative effects dreams can have when they are deferred. Longboats captured me with his first line “What happens to a dream deferred? ” He speaks of the African- Americans from the plantations, who have dreams but are being suppressed by oppressing forces. Racism dividing whites and blacks from any type of equality in America allowing them to have dreams but holding them back to enough to never fulfill those dreams.

    He continues to ask what will happen to this dream “does it dry up like a raisin in the sun”, he uses the example of a raisin because they start out as a plump Juicy grape, but transform into something different once they are left out to dry. I felt that Longboats wanted us to know that his people had dreams, but the mistreatment and belief of black inferiority from the white slave masters eventually caused those dreams to shrivel up like a raisin and lose their meaning.

    He then asks wound or sore, but if nothing is done to heal that sore, or to reach your dream, does it run away from you. Longboats gives a very descriptive image to the point you can almost feel and smell what would happen to your dream if it was deferred, “Does it stink like rotten meat”, the dream becomes so stagnate it begins to turn fowl. In the line could it “crust and sugar over like a syrupy sweet” felt that Longboats was saying that dreaming was sweet in the inside but crusted over and became harder to reach from the outside.

    When Longboats said “maybe it Just sags like a heavy load”, he meant these dreams started to weigh on his people’s hearts, it became a burden to have any dreams. The last question of the poem “Or does it explode’stands out the most to me, you have a dream that you dreamed of so much that it leaves you in despair and escapes you. Longboats Hughes wrote this poem during a time when African-Americans were enduring injustice, and feeling there was no way to reach forward.

    I felt he truly captured what it was like for African-Americans at that time and how they were treated. Harlem Renaissance was a time when many African-Americans depicted their struggles and experiences through writing. It was a time that brought out many great changes and it allowed African-Americans to express their culture without fear and shame. This movement changed the way African-Americans were seen by whites, and the black culture became more accepted. Many great writers came about during this time, one of which was Longboats Hughes.

    His poetry was a true reflection of the African-American culture and Harlem. He was influenced by the struggles presented in the Harlem Renaissance, which was expressed through his poem “Harlem (Dream Deferred). ” He also emphasized how music replenished the soul through emotional connections by the use of form and language through his poem “Trumpet Player. ” Longboats Hughes had a true connection to the Harlem Renaissance, he helped define he spirit of the age through his lyrical style and brilliant writings.

    Works Cited Harlem Renaissance 1919-1940. Essay. African American Literature. Edited by: Gates, Louis Henry and McKay, Nellie. New York, 2004. 953-962. Print. “Harlem renaissance. ” Wisped, The Free Encyclopedia. Wisped, The Free Encyclopedia, 1 Deck. 2007. Web. 18 Par. 2012. “Longboats Hughes. ” Wisped, The Free Encyclopedia. Wisped, The Free Encyclopedia, 2 Par. 2012. Web. 22 Par. 2012. Miller, R. Baxter. The Art and Imagination of Longboats Hughes. University Press of Kentucky, 2006

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