The term identity is defined by Webster’s dictionary as being “the state or fact of remaining the same one or ones, as under varying aspects or conditions” however in exploring the concept of Identity in black literature, we can find no definite explanation or definition. We can try to accept that it has been rooted in social situations that are generally more discriminatory, such the institution of slavery. In some way shape or form, the average or normal African American is confronted with the question of where do I fit in amongst the white society?
The problem with African American Identity has many dimensions, such as community, class, and color. The reality of the African American is one that is inescapable in America. Color which is inherent in the concept of self, manifest in race consciousness. This is extremely significant because an African American establishes his identity with other individuals, known or unknown, on the basis of a similarity of color and features, that allowing the individual to be included in groups membership, “the subject of his self identity. After the African Americans began to search for their identity looking through heritage, tradition, and folk traditions. Langston Hughes to me has been nourishing the black sensibility and inspiring it to create Afro American literation and transforming it into a “literature of struggle. ” The poetry of Langston Hughes has the theme of “ I, too sing America” He made extraordinary contributions to American literature and has came to be regarded as a leading voice in the Renaissance of the arts in the 1920’s.
Hughes growing up asked the same question to himself of who he was, his lack of identity in society, which put a large impact on his mind and soul and made him a poet of the blacks. Hughes developed a distinct movement of “negritude” which may be regarded as the soul of the Renaissance. Rising from the consciousness of his skin color and passing through various stages of identification with people and territory of Africa, and finally grounding it in the American Past. Negritude “in the poetry of Hughes evolves into a definite and enduring concept expressive of definite vision. He Hughes doesn’t suffer from what W. E. B Dubois terms as a double consciousness. “Two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings, two warring ideals in one dark body. ” Search for identity seems to be a vital aspect in the work of Langston Hughes. The identity of an American black citizen was denied to him and there was a loss of identity which a modern man living in the 20th century experiences. The Black people of America are American, the African and Black Americans are at the same time.
Africa which is thought to be homeland for blacks, was dealt with by Langston Hughes, who missed the natural beauty of Africa and dreaded being caged in the mayhem of civilization. He searched his roots back in Africa. Primitivism had already become a fascinating alternative for people for people not interested in the 2nd industrial revolution. It gave new meaning of going back to the roots and ones identity. The poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” is an example of the of the urge and need of the Negro to go back to his own land to find ethnic connections. The poet says: I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins. In the poems entirety the rivers symbolize the glorious past, which have been flowing since humanities inception. So the African who has known rivers cannot be rootless or without past. Hughes also established a definite identity between the Blacks of America and the continent of Africa which he states in his poem called “Negro” I am a Negro: Black as the night is black, Black like the depths of my Africa. I’ve been a slave: I’ve been a worker: I’ve been a singer: All the way from Africa to Georgia
I carried my sorrow songs. It was not easy to just up and go back to Africa. It became the dreamland for the poet, a country in which he could escape into when he finds life difficult to cope with. The poet to me seemed widely aware of misery, frustration, and isolation which to him is something that other blacks are facing. This epiphany of his leans him to the universal significance and appeal to the poets treatment of black life in America. His retreat into African is not a romantic escape from realities of life, but it provides a point of view to look at the realities of the life of black people in America.
To say the blacks were treated horribly by white Americans is an understatement, they were compared to beasts and were treated accordingly. The black man was lynched, maimed and burnt, while the black woman was raped and desecrated. Lynching of the black on the charge of raping a white woman was one of the most commonplace events. Fear to the race and hatred, for the black was a common behavior of the white masses. The treatments to the blacks becomes evident in the following lines of “I, too sing America” I, too, sing America. I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen When company comes, But I laugh, And eat well, And grow strong. Hence the stanza shows that the black worker doesn’t find any place in the heart of the whites. He is sent to the background by the company bosses who are indifferent towards the blacks. The African American feels lonely in the northern city where there are large The Negro feels lonesome in the northern city where there are a large number of people, yet he still feels lost in the Poem “One” he relates his profound sense of isolation Lonely As a bottle of licker On a table All by itself.
The whites don’t permit the political freedom to the blacks. Blacks are deprived of their basic necessities of life. They don’t have a proper place to live in. Their miserable condition is shown in the poem “Vagabond” Who have nowhere To eat. No place to sleep, The tearless Who cannot Weep. In this the blacks are alien on their own land. The blacks want a chance to eek out a decent living and have equal rights across America. Langston Hughes says “undemocratic doings take place in the shadow of the world’s greatest democracy” The blacks have no right to participate in the political affairs.
Langston Hughes poetry is also preoccupied with the social problems faced by the blacks. Man is called a social animal. Blacks are not given the equal place in the society. The poet shows this inequality in the poem “Merry Go Round” the social whites have no sympathy even for a young black child. He has to sit in a segregated section. Hughes writes: Colored child at carnival: Where is the Jim Crowe section On this merry-go-round, Mister, cause I want to ride? Down South where I come from White and colored Can’t sit side by side. Thus the merry go round is a metaphor for America.
It is a kind of Satire on the American Society which we know as a free Society. A clear picture of the exploitation of the blacks is presented that cultural, social, and psychological space has been denied to them. Hughes never forgetting the images he has seen growing up, he has grown up shell shocked. He can clearly make out the contradiction of principles, for America was a democracy, but for the Negroes, America was fighting for a free and equal world. One where Jim Crow was eradicated, however he understands that the flame of freedom can not be extinguished by lynching and imprisoning blacks.
From all this it become evident that Langston Hughes deals with the racial discrimination, lack of identity in the society and lack of freedom for the blacks. His aim and ultimate effect of his poetry is raising awareness and strengthening of the black people in their struggle for freedom in America. He was proud of his Afro-American legacy and tradition. He forcefully projects the theme of identity in his poems. He not only inspires the black to make it to the top but more than that he evokes a vision of a just society. works sited
Georgene Seward, Psychotherapy and Culture Conflict (New York: Ronald Press, 1956), p. 129. Arthur A. Schaumburg’s “The Negro Digs up his Past”, in Alain Locke’s The New Negro, pp. 931-37. Jay Saunders Redding, To Make a poet Black (Washington:McGrath, 1969), p. 3. James A. Emanuel, Langston Hughes (New Haven: College and University Press, 1967), pp. 148-162. W. E. B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk (New York: New American Library, 1969), p. 45. Langston Hughes, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers. ” Selected Poems (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979), p. 4.
Langston Hughes, “Negro. ” Selected Poems (New York:Alfred A. Knopf, 1979), p. 8. Langston Hughes, “I, too, Sing America. ” Selected Poems (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979), p. 275. Langston Hughes, “One. ” Selected Poems (New York:Alfred A. Knopf, 1979), p. 92. Langston Hughes, “Vagabonds. ” Selected Poems (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979), p. 91. Langston Hughes, “The Big Sea” The Collected Works of Langston Hughes ( New YorkJoseph Mclauren, 1979) Volume 13 P 165 Langston Hughes, “Merry-Go-Round. ” Selected Poems (NewYork: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979), p. 194.
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