Literature Essays Paper on Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes

Of the early 20th century writers, Langston Hughes stood as a cultural and literary translation considering his efforts towards advocating for political resistance and campaigning for black consciousness. Through his works, Hughes facilitated the realization of the American dream because he was instrumental in advocating the rights of African Americans his talents and education background Hughes was able to span through varieties of genres including novels, poetry, and drama (Leach 14). Through these works, Hughes was successful in portraying a compelling sense of cultural and social purpose through the development of an effective relationship between his understanding the past, present, and future of African Americans. Through this approach, he was able to pay tribute to his early life (Leach 18). By delving in different genres and thematic areas, involving issues of the African American community he gave advice aimed at advancing their objectives by informing and guiding their steps as they move towards the creation of a greater future.


Langston Hughes was born in 1902 in Joplin, Missouri. In his early years, his parents separated and this led him to Kansas where he grew under the care of his grandmother. His mother, while living in Kansas City worked as an actor (Leach 8). His father was an active lawyer practicing in Mexico. Later in his life, he settled in Cleveland following the death of his grandmother. In Cleveland, he attended high school and later attended Columbia University. His early adult life was characterized by a stint of living with his father in Mexico, an assorted of employment opportunities and travelling experiences. In 1926, Hughes published The Weary Blues, his first collection of poems, which received a warm but critical reception (Leach 18).

His second book of poems Fine Clothes to the Jews was published in 1927. In 1929, Hughes graduated from Lincoln University with a bachelor’s degree. In 1931, he was the recipient of the Harmon Gold Medal for literature (24). This was in recognition of the works defining his first novel, Not without Laughter, which was published in 1930. The success emanating from his early works of literature led him into deciding to pursue a writing career. Throughout the 1930s, he was increasingly involved with the Political Left advocating for the rights of African Americans in the United States (24). In early 1950s, his writing career faced additional challenges because of the involvement of the US government in his activities. During this period, the United States through a senate subcommittee began investigating claims that he was actively participating in the sale of literature and poetry books to libraries abroad. Despite these setbacks, Hughes remained active as a lecturer and writer until in 1967 when he died from congestive heart failure in New York (150).

Major works

Despite his output and achievement in other literary genres, Hughes was famous as a poet. Within his poetry, his objective was to capture the emotions, experiences, spirits, and voices of the early 21st century African Americans. In these poems, he had the determination of reflecting the everyday life of the black community who comprised majority of the working class (24). The major themes that defied his poetry were largely controversial and they included racism, teenage pregnancy, lynching, and prostitution. He considered poetry to be an effective tool through which he could express the plight of African Americans with the objective of realizing a lasting solution. An additional attribute of his literary works was the incorporation of vernacular in his verses. He also drew heavily from the themes, rhythm, and tempos of blues, gospel, and jazz music (122). The Negro Speaks Rivers is one of his most anthologized poems drawn from his first collection. In this poem, he speaks of the effects of racism on the development of African Americans. His second poetry collection, Fine Clothes to the Jew was one of the most successful collections (124). This is because it presented the realities that characterized the African American society in a white dominated America.

Through this collection of poems, Hughes recognized the daily problems of the African Americans belonging to the working class during the Harlem renaissance. This group of professionals escaped oppressions and slavery in the south in pursuit of the American dream only to be denied success by a racial urban society (125). His book length poem, The Montage of a Dream Deferred, published in 1951charaterized the struggles of the urban African Americans when compared to the life experiences of the domain at white (129). In 1967, Hughes developed a collection of his own poetry in print such as Selected Poems of Langston Hughes in 1962. His poetry that were published posthumously generated public attention because of the politically controversial verses and essays that defined his works. The collected Poems of Langston Hughes, which was published in 1994, was the most definitive volume according to most critics (135).

Langston Hughes reputation in literature did not only result from poetry but also in his skills in prose writing. His fictional character, Jesse Semple, was most beloved among he depicted the life of a stereotypical poor man in the Harlem renaissance period. Semple was willing to share his experiences and tales with a writer character, Boyd, in exchange of a drink (122). Through the tales of Semple, Hughes was successful in portraying the challenges faced by poor African Americans in a racial society. Throughout his years as a prose writer, Hughes was successful in writing stores for younger African Americans by providing them with details of the African American culture.

Critical reception of his work

Throughout his writing career, Hughes was confronted with a mixture of reactions from his works. There were black intellectuals who denounced his for portraying unsophisticated aspects of life in the lower class. According to this group of readers, Hughes focused on furthering unfavorable images of the African American community (114). Despite the good reception, his poetry collection titled Fine Clothes to the Jew among mainstream literary critics, there were criticisms from his African American peers who faulted him partly because of the title of the title, and others criticized it for its frank portrayal of the poor urban life among African Americans in the Harlem neighborhood (144). There were also critics who faulted Hughes for bolstering negative racial stereotypical connotations in his poetry and novels in his choice of the subject matter. Other critics accused him of employing black dialect and vernacular speech in portraying the Harlem streets (146). Hughes responded to these criticisms when he wrote that African Americans had many issues to be addressed by putting them in books just like the dominant white community who were fortunate to be born in a privilege community where they could access education to a master’s level. According to Hughes, his stories were derived from the life experiences in his community. Majority of the population was poor, uneducated, and unemployed. Despite these misfortunes, they still portrayed elements of humility and kindness in their everyday interactions. For Hughes literature provided a platform of expressing to the world details about his community (154). It also revealed how they envisioned the incorporation of measures that could enhance their wellbeing. For Hughes literature was a tool through which the goals and objectives of the African American community could be expressed and addressed. Literature was a platform used in voicing the existing social ills and the contributions of various stakeholder towards their eradication.

In 1960s, Hughes faced opposition from younger literary peers who accused him of being ignoring to the Civil Rights Movement. According to these individuals, blues and gospel music that were in sharp contrast with the increasingly stringent militant rhetoric that characterized the Civil Rights Movement inspired Hughes’ cadences (159). Laurence Lieberman in his review of The Panther and the Lash questions Hughes’ politics. He argued that his position in the society as a scholar demands his commitment in expressing issues affecting the African American community (160). Furthermore, the critics also faulted Hughes by arguing that he retained his honesty, directness, and keenness making his poetry and other literary works intelligently ironic.

Major thematic areas addressed by Langston Hughes

Racial segregation, racial pride, and equality among all races were some of the recurring thematic areas. His motifs largely dealt with segregation that often accompanies his dream of a society in which despite the racial diversity, everyone was treated equally (130). The metaphor and imagery that he used in his poetry was critical in creating a sense of hope and solemnness among the segregated that the society will evolve by embracing structures that embrace equality. In his poetry such as Dream Variation, Hughes hops for the day he would be free to express his thoughts in a white dominated society (133). He uses imagery in expressing his dream of a society in which segregation is eliminated and people interact and engage in other development initiatives without fear of discrimination because of their racial identity.

Hughes also uses imagery in portraying his idea of a perfect world where everyone, irrespective of their skin color or race, leaves peaceful while embracing tolerance and acceptance of other people as integral members of the society (165). He asserts the importance of dream to the racially segregated society by emphasizing that it was important for the black community to dream a community characterized by peaceful coexistence. For Hughes failing to dream was an expression of loss of hope because if dreams exist it is possible to develop measures of fulfilling them. Dreams give the society hope and it is only by their survival that it becomes possible for a society to advance (168). In one of his poems, Let American is America Again Hughes compares America to the pioneer on the plane. He uses the metaphor of a pioneer to depict how America is in the process of exploring the ideas of equality for all but still has to achieve other objectives in order to enhance its survival. For Hughes Americans must engage in cooperative efforts to realize the American dream defined by equality (169). Through poetry that is defined by metaphors and imageries of hope, Hughes succeeds in demonstrating the American dream.

Hughes poetry draws much of its influence from his family and peers in poetry who instilled some sense of racial pride in him. His enormous interest for African American culture was in contrast with his father’s dislike for this community. His father hated and regretted being an African American (161). However, Hughes was always proud and fascinated by his black culture and this explains why, through poetry, he defended the race and was not ashamed of depicting life among African Americans. For Hughes it was only through racial pride that the black community could advance from the stereotypical connotations that defined life in their community (162). Furthermore, Hughes perceived black poets of his time dealing with issues of racial segregation as his role models. He derived inspiration for these poets because they were courageous and proud of their black identity. In his active years as a writer, Hughes faced racial criticisms but the inspiration he derived from his grandmother made him courageous and prior of his community (167). This explains why in most of his poems and other works of literature, Hughes wrote about the racial discrimination and segregation that characterized life among his ancestors. His life experiences as a poet were critical in shaping his writing style and subject matter (168). His interactions with other poets such as Richard Wright helped him gain popularity and recognition as a poet who addressed racial issues that other poet were afraid to write about.


Works cited

Leach, Laurie F. Langston Hughes: A Biography. Westport (Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2004.