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20090225 Hughes, McKay, and Cullen

Page history last edited by Brian Croxall 11 years, 7 months ago
Summary:  
         The poetry of Claude Mckay (1889-1948), Countee Cullen (1903-1946), and Langston Hughes (1902-1967) demonstrates the goals of African American artists during the Harlem Renaissance.  These goals included uplifting the race as a whole (like DuBois's talented tenth), recognizing cultural contributions, and making African Americans the subject of cultural representations.  
 
  Both McKay (1889-1948) and Cullen utilize traditional poetic form such as the sonnet and heroic couplet to contrast the harsh realities of life for African Americans and also to place African Americans at the center of classic art forms. It is important to note that McKay and Cullen use traditional poetic form which seems to break the "rules" of Modernism yet their experimentation of using Afican Americans as the content is what makes them Modernist. Similar to Cullen’s “Incident” and Heritage,” McKay conveys the struggling search of African Americans for freedom in the “The Lynching” and “Harlem Dancer.” His focus on freedom demonstrates that the panacea, the cure all to African American’s struggles through enfranchisement and education, has not yet been achieved.
  
  Langston Hughes (1926) also places African Americans at the center of his works, but, in contrast to the other two writers, he employs the unique rhythms of jazz and blues -- the creation of African Americans -- as his poetic form.  In “Weary Blues,” he literally quotes lines from a blues song, which forces the reader to recognize jazz as poetry.  Hughes, however, does not romanticize the life of a jazz musician, but rather notes their struggles.  In “I, Too,” Hughes responds to the Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself;” as he challenges the idea of American democracy by asking for African Americans to be recognized as equal members of America, literally with a seat at the table.
  
  In addition, the concluding discussion of Nella Larson’s Passing highlighted the fact that there may be other forms of passing besides racial passing. Particularly, Irene and Clare may be merely passing as heterosexuals; perhaps the women are concealing and suppressing their mutual love because of the expectations of society at that time. There seems to be a lot of pretending occuring in "Passing" whether it is racial, sexual, or class related just like the shift from Realism to Modernism in which one can no longer rely stictly on observation to interpret society. 
 
Word Count: 308
 
Passages:
From: “The Lynching” by Claude McKay
All night a bright and solitary star
(Perchance the one that ever guided him,
Yet gave him up at last to Fate’s wild whim)
Hung pitifully o’er the swinging char. (ln. 5-8)
  
In this passage, McKay uses the image of the “solitary star” to call to memory the plight of African Americans.  This star can be read to represent the North Star, which runaway slaves commonly used to guide them in their bid for freedom.  This imagery ties the lynching to the history of African Americans.  However, the star is also called the “one that ever guided him,” which suggests that the lynched man, too, was in need of a guide towards freedom.  Indeed, African American’s freedom is obstructed by many obstacles—especially at the time McKay is writing his poem.  Therefore, this suggests that African Americans are still fighting for the freedom that America—and in this case the men who lynch blacks—denies them.  Lastly, it is interesting to note that the lynching has reduced what used to be a man to a “swinging char.”  McKay only refers to the man in the past.  Current descriptions of the body deny the human that once inhabited the flesh, which shows the brutal nature of the lynching.
 
From "Weary Blues" by Langston Hughes
The stars went out and so did the moon.
 The singer stopped playing and went to bed.  
While the weary blues echoes through his head
he slept like a rock or a man that's dead.  (ln. 32-35)
  
This passage indicates the poet's understanding of the life of the jazz artist, as he struggles to get by.  The fact that sleeping, a peaceful act, is confused with death signifies the powerlessness of the musician, as even though he creates beautiful music, his art is still not considered equal to that of white artists.  This discrimination in art is just a part of the racism occurring in society at the time.  Hughes acknowledges the contributions that African Americans have made to art, and encourages that they receive their appropriate recognition.  

 

From "I, Too" by Langston Hughes

Tomorrow,
I'll be at the table 
When company Comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the Kitchen,"
Then.
Besides,
They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed --
I, too, am America. (ln 8-17)
 
This end to the poem uses the metaphor of having a seat at the table to define democracy.  This is a particularly significant image, as it brings to mind the relationship between slave (the one without a seat) and master (the one at the table), indicating that even though slavery has been abolished, freedom has not yet been achieved.  The speaker asserts that he has just as much claim to America as anyone else, and this poem projects a sense of hope that one day, this equality and recognition will be achieved.
 
From "Note on Commercial Theatre" by Langston Hughes
 
"Black and beautiful--
And sing about me,
And put on plays about me!
I reckon it'll be
Me myself!
Yes, it'll be me. (15-20)
 
This is an example of how Hughes wants African Americans to be in the spotlight.
 
From "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain" by Langston Hughes
 
"But this is the mountain standing in the way of any true Negro in American--this urge within the race toward whiteness, the desire to pour racial indivituality into the mold of American standardization, and to be as little Negro and as much American as possible."
 
Hughes whats people to see that African Americans are in many ways beautiful but also in some ways ugly, just like white people. He also thinks that the desire of African Americans to want to be American over black is a problem.
 

Terms: 

Projection:  Freud’s theory that people take feelings they have for someone and put them on someone else (Irene puts her sexual urges for Clare on her husband).  Frued is widely accepted as true in Larson's time making the assumption that what Irene describes as Brian's feelings might really be what she is feeling.

 

 

Comments (3)

Reina Factor said

at 7:37 pm on Feb 26, 2009

hey guys, i added a basic summary of the information, but feel free to add or take out stuff and also add passages and key terms!!

Rachel Miller-Crews said

at 7:15 pm on Feb 27, 2009

Hey sorry it took me so long to contribute, I have been so crazy this week, I added some lines to the summary and some passages :)

Brian Croxall said

at 11:18 pm on Apr 16, 2009

These notes are really excellent—especially since you were under the gun with the exam yesterday. Your summary is to the point and you focused primarily on the poets rather on Larsen. (You did an equally good job handling the mix of James and Wharton, I recall.) Your passages and explanations are also well written and insightful.

The only problem with these notes is that the summary is a little too long—8 words over is not especially bad, but I’d like to see you hit the goal—and you have too many passages. I know that I read a lot of portions from the texts, to say nothing of Larsen, which you perhaps wisely chose not to cover, but you need to keep it to three passages. Making the tough choices is part of the assignment and your function as a group is to decide which things are most relevant to an overall discussion. You might have chosen to leave out the passage from “I, Too” since you talk about it in the summary, for example.

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