Harlem Renaissance Poets

The 1920s became a significant period of history regarding the development of Afro-American literature. Though the slavery was officially stopped, the discrimination, however, remained in the society and people’s minds. It provoked an artistic movement called Harlem Renaissance, bright representatives of which are Langston Hughes and Claude McKay. The main features of both poets lay in dualism of their works. Both of them are faithful to their ethnic roots and express this theme in poems. Meanwhile, the so-called “double consciousness” is reflected in the lines created by both authors. The constant choice between preserving the authentic culture or assimilation with “white” culture is painfully expressed in almost each piece of Harlem Renaissance literature.

First, the paper provides an analysis of an outstanding Harlem Renaissance representative ‑ Langston Hughes. The poet was an active member of the Parisian black community, and the spirit of freedom runs through his poetry. He greatly contributed to the artistic life in the USA in the 1920s with his numerous poems exploring “black” themes as well as with journalistic works. He created a sarcastic character for a column in a newspaper, with the help of which he used to raise racial issues. He clearly emphasizes the aforementioned issues in his “I Too, Sing, America,” where from the second line he indicates that he is “the darkest brother.” Already this first line is an element of “double consciousness” as the speaker talks about himself in a way the other race would name him. This attribute has not derived from self-consciousness but was gained through the other people. “They send me to eat in the kitchen…” ‑ the line is allusion of inequity, where the dark and white people are opposed to each other. Metaphorically, he demonstrates neglect of black people because of skin color and points to slavery (Hughes). However, he is not complaining but is filled with encouragement and optimism. The parallel lines “But I laugh, And eat well, And grow strong” obviously indicate the intension of the character to overcome these hardships and belief in American justice (Hughes). Through the next lines, where he convinces the reader that “tomorrow he’ll be at table and nobody will dare to say anything against,” Hughes acknowledges the struggle against social and racial injustice. This topic of Afro-American identification is expressed in the symbolic row of adjectives dark- strong- beautiful (Hughes). He keeps attention to this tendency, thus being the voice of the whole nation of African Americans. Certainly, tomorrow is not a settled day but an indication of upcoming metamorphoses. Besides, “table” is opposite to “kitchen” as upper and lower classes or as well-being and poverty. He assumes that America is a free country to everyone, and black people can be and will be a part of American freedom song.

Another writer of the period, Claude McKay, who is a follower and contributor to the artistic direction of Harlem Renaissance, brought to literary heritage his remarkable poem “If We Must Die”. Like his colleagues, he discusses racial topics. In particular, in this poem, he encourages African Americans to be brave and struggle for their rights. He encountered racism personally and rendered it to his poetry. This poet significantly differs from the others in his huge potential to call to action and to become a leader who encourages people to struggle but not just complain about injustice. He plays with contrasts in the poem, pointing to the higher rate of African Americans. “If we must die, O let us nobly die,” “Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,” “dying, but fighting back!” ‑ all these lines attract readers’ attention to nobility and generosity of these people despite the skin color (McKay). He opposes the black people who are fighting for their rights to the white invaders whom he metaphorically calls “mad and hungry dogs.” Due to its internal nature, this poem has fewer elements of double consciousness, but still they are evident in the perspective of appeal: “If we must die—let it not be like hogs.”This line again shows the view of the speaker through the eyes of others: the comparison with hogs is derived from the discrimination by white people, not from self-esteem. The main topics of struggle and racial discrimination obviously create harsh tension for a reader. The speaker empathizes positive attributes of the fighters by showing the spirit of the nation: “our precious blood,” “to honor us though dead,” “like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack” (McKay). He establishes the readiness to die for justice but does not want death to be senseless. Those who fall under the allies may become an example and honored members of antiracial movement. The poem is a motivation; it is a voice of each African American who has been neglected in the country, which promotes freedom for everyone. The effect is reached not only by the content but also by the rhythm and particular tropes used by the author (Voltage Poetry, 2012).

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In conclusion, two main topics may be defined in the works of both poets: a struggle of black people for their rights against discrimination and identification of African Americans as a part of democratic and free American nation.


We are brothers,

We are strong,

Let’s say these people,

“You are wrong”

We do not serve and eat from floor

We will not leave this anymore.

We’re born to live a happy life,

We are part of the USA,

And for this right we fight,

For our pain they’ll pay.

We are brothers,

Let’s unite

To get the freedom fast

Don’t be afraid to cry again,

We’ll see who will laugh last.

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