“I swear to the Lord, I still can’t see, why democracy means, everybody but me.”
These were spoken words of desperation from Langston Hughes.
Today I will discuss how Langston Hughes represents the recurring theme of injustice of the African-Americans through his racial protest in the poems; I Too, Sing America, Democracy and A New Song. Hughes represents the theme of injustice by utilising emotive writing, expression of tone and making references to the Harlem Renaissance.
Langston Hughes reveals the injustice past of the African-Americans and calls for unity amongst society by reflecting on the Harlem Renaissance in the poem, A New Song. The Harlem Renaissance was a significant influence in Hughes writing. This era was the first time ever that African-Americans were encouraged to celebrate their heritage. Langston Hughes explains that the African-American society is ready to take action from the first line of the poem, “I speak in the name of the black millions / Awakening to action” (1). A New Song was written as a free verse and Hughes constructs this poem chronically in regards to the history of African-Americans. Hughes positions the readers to feel the injustice of slavery when he African Americans were sold as commodities and mistreated when he explains in lines 7 to 9, “Bitter was the day, when I bowed my back beneath the slaver’s whip” (7-9). However Hughes commits the period to history by stating, “That day is past” (10)
. Throughout the poem Hughes recalls many “bitter” and discriminative events of the African-Americans during the Harlem Renaissance relating to “thieves, exploiters, killers” (29). However, Hughes declares that “no longer shall you [they] say, with arrogant eyes and scornful lips: You are my servant, Black man- I, the free!’ (29-34). These lines were important in positioning the reader to feel anger towards the Western society due to the prejudice actions towards the black society and again, this proves the segregation of the white society to the African-Americans. However, Hughes then emphasises the line “that day is past” (35).
The repetition of the line “bitter was the day” and “the day is past” is very important in letting readers feel emotions of sorrow and sympathy towards the African-Americans, yet “sweet” and hopeful for their future (43). Towards the end of the poem, Langston Hughes states in line 50, “The black and white world shall be one!” By this line, the reader understood that even though ‘his’ people have endured the isolation of the White society, Hughes still believes that everyone will soon be treated equally in this “worker’s world” (53).
Hughes positions the readers to feel the emotions of guilt and sympathy by applying his personal narration in I, Too, Sing America. Langston Hughes uses the emotions of guilt to allow the readers to recognise the inequality of the African-Americans. In this poem, Hughes presents a situation of a “darker brother” where “they send me [him] to eat in the kitchen when company comes (2). This situation represents the fact that segregation of African-American happens on every level – either minor or very major. The reader felt sympathetic for the, “darker brother” who was isolated and his presence was an embarrassment to the people around him due to his cultural heritage.
However, the reader was soon able to see that Hughes still holds optimism when he ironically states, “but I laugh, and eat well, and grow strong” (5-7). The addition of humour and irony shows the confidence of the young boy and that he is not affected by the situation. Hughes expresses optimism for the future in lines 8, “Tomorrow, I’ll be at the table when company comes” and “nobody’ll dare say to me [him]: eat in the kitchen” (8). From the presentation of humour and irony, Hughes positions the readers to feel guilty about the matter and sympathetic when Hughes states, “they’ll see how beautiful I am, and be ashamed” (17). Hughes uses the word “beautiful”, symbolising his skin colour, and establishing that his skin colour does not determine who he is, and that he is just like everyone else, “I [he] too am [is] America” (18).
Through the expression of tone in Democracy, Langston Hughes displays determination and protests for a movement towards freedom and equality. Langston Hughes poem, Democracy explains to the reader that if in denial, a problem will never be solved from the lines, “Democracy will not come…ever…through compromise and fear” (1-4). From the use of simple words and emphasis on “will not” Hughes presents the core message of the poem to the reader bluntly and very direct – that he wants his freedom now (1). Hughes protests for freedom in lines 5 to 9, “I have as much right as the other fellow has to stand on my feet and own the land”. Hughes explains this and positions the reader to agree with him that he should have as much right as the ‘white’ “fellow” (6). Hughes refers to the White Americans as “fellow” showing that Hughes still has respect for them but yet he wants to feel proud and the pride of living on his land too, furthermore he wants his “fellow” to respect him (6).
The reader comprehended that Hughes protest has been extensive and tiring, When Hughes shows emotions of impatience and annoyance when he states, “I tires so of hearing people say, let things take their course” (10-11). In lines 13 to 14 Hughes bluntly states “I do not need my freedom when I’m dead, I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread”. By the uses of the contractions “do not” and “cannot” Hughes puts emphasis on his speech and protests that he wants his freedom now and what society has given him is not enough. In the last stanza Hughes presents 3 short lines, “I live here, too. I want freedom just as you.” Though short and simple, Hughes draws his message to an end and again reemphasises that he just wants his freedom like everyone else. From the lines “freedom is a great need!” the reader was able to realise the determination from Hughes protest and therefore this positions the reader to grasp the fact that equality is still absent in society.
Langston Hughes represents the recurring theme of injustice of the African-Americans through his racial protest in the poems; I Too, Sing America, Democracy and A New Song. These three poems were personal messages of Langston Hughes, educating his readers that it is a new beginning for the African-American society. In the three poems, Hughes allows the readers to feel guilty and sorrow by presenting the injustice past of the black people in A New Song.
Hughes furthermore, explains the segregation of the African-Americans and protests for freedom in I, Too, Sing America. However in Democracy, Hughes amends the tone and allows the reader to feel hopeful for the future of African-Americans when he shows confidence that equality amongst society will soon exist. All Hughes poems were heavily influenced by the Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance was a significant era for all Negros, it was a time when they were able to express their thoughts and feelings through literature, art, music, dance, and for Langston Hughes it was simply through his writing.
As his friends said of him, “No one enjoyed being a Negro as much as Langston Hughes.”