Langston Hughes once said in his poem, The Black Man Speaks, “I swear to the Lord / I still can't see / Why Democracy means / Everybody but me.” This quotation by Hughes is able to perfectly depict inequality which was just one of many struggles African Americans faced during Hughes’ time. Although literary critics felt that Langston Hughes portrayed an unattractive view of black life, the poems demonstrate reality. Hughes’ poetry contains many issues that typically plagued blacks at the time including racial abuse, lack of opportunity, and segregation.
Langston Hughes was born February 1, 1902 in Joplin, Missouri. Poems.org stated that Hughes’ parents were divorced when he was young. He ...view middle of the document...
The poem establishes white dominance in several ways. This includes the superiority of the white individual as he is called “mister,” while the black male is made to be inferior by the white man calling him “boy.” This references the historical aspect of slavery in our country. In the poem, the black individual is abused and assaulted by whites who are members of the Ku Klux Klan. This physical exploitation is another instance of white superiority being established in the poem (Brinkman). This criticism by Brinkman illustrates how Hughes depicts a grotesque aspect of black life in his poetry. However, Hughes’ depiction was actually more factual than exaggerated. The Ku Klux Klan was a omnipresent concern for African Americans during Hughes’ lifetime and exhibits a reality, not just an unattractive portrayal, of black life during the period. American Pageant 13th Edition states that the Ku Klux Klan was a racist organization and hate group that murdered and abused African-Americans and other groups. During the 20th century, they were most active at their peak in the 1920s when their membership exceeded four million and in the 1960s during the civil rights movement (Kennedy 495). Black life included the possibility of racial beatings and also the lack of opportunity to pursue dreams.
In the poem Harlem, Hughes speculates about what happens to a “dream deferred.” Hughes asks questions like “Does it dry up / like a raisin in the sun” and “Does it stink like rotten meat” in reference to a “dream deferred” (Harlem). One critic concludes that
Questions that are answers; a penultimate answer so tentative that it more resembles a question; stanza divisions which partially obscure our perception of the poem as a trio of paired oppositions progressing from outer to inner; a rhyme scheme which--at odds with the typography--reinforces the division into paired oppositions, all result in a poem in conflict with itself. … Its dis-integration mirrors the continuing failure of American society to achieve harmonious integration of blacks and whites. (Hansen)
This message of failed integration between Caucasians and African Americans that Hughes conveys through his poetry relates to the title of the poem. The title of this poem, Harlem, refers to the poor black community in New York City. Harlem: the Making of a Ghetto notes that “by the 1920’s Harlem had become an appalling slum, a community of despair and poverty” (Osofsky 92). The poem demonstrates reality because it describes typical life for northern African Americans living in a ghetto. The poem is able to describe what happens to dreams when they must be placed on a shelf or put on hold because of a lack of opportunity. This was a common occurrence for blacks during Hughes’ time. Blacks were also confronted with the issue of segregation.
The theme of segregation is evident in Hughes’ poem Merry-Go-Round. The poem is about a child who wants to know where the black section of the...