The period of the Harlem Renaissance was a time of great change and exploration for African Americans . It was during this point in the early twentieth century that African Americans were exploring their cultural and social roots. With the rapid expansion of a cohesive black community in the area, it was only a matter of time before the finest minds in Black America converged to share their ideas and unleash their creative essences upon a country that had for so long silenced them. In the midst of this bohemian convergence, many notable figures arose who would give a new voice to African Americans. With such great notables as Countee Cullen, Jean Toomer, Zora Neale, and James Johnson, mainstream American now had a unique window into the plight of African Americans all over the country. One individual though stands out as one of the most prominent figures of the Harlem Renaissance. Langston Hughes defined himself by his ability to pursue the true essence of “black folk” at a time when black identity, culture, or art was considered an oxymoronic concept. Hughes sought to explore the true identity of Black America even amidst criticism that his work was anti-assimilationist in its literary expression. Wallace Thurman, one of Hughes’ closest friends had this to say about the poet’s subject matter:
“He went for inspiration and rhythms to those people who had been the least
absorbed by the quagmire of American Kultur, and from them he undertook
to select and preserve such autonomous racial values as were being rapidly
eradicated in order to speed the Negro’s assimilation.”
( Bloom 161)
To many black critics, including Thurman, the subjects of Langston Hughes’ poetry exposed an aspect of the black culture that, according to Countee Cullen threw wide, “every door of the racial entourage, to the wholesale gaze of the world at large (Bloom 152).” Hughes was a lover of his people and sought to explain and illuminate the Negro condition in America. He created works of literature that were distinctively Negro in their elements:
Without repudiating the Americanness of the Afro American, he defined how a work of art by a black American can be Negro, the artist’s Americanness notwithstanding…..The black artist stands a good chance of capturing the Negro soul if he looks for his material not among the “self-styled “hi-class” Negroes,” but among “the low down folks”, the so called common element.
Black critics openly criticized Langston Hughes’s poetry on the merit that there could be no distinctive art or literary work that would be called specifically Negro. During the period, there was a progressive movement toward the assimilation of African Americans into the mainstream culture. Many critics expressed...