DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.

Crystal Rivas                                                                         December 16, 2010

ENG 33000

Section: 5DB2

Critical Essay

Langston Hughes and his Harlem Dream

            During the 1900’s many African Americans moved from the south to the north in an event called the Great Migration.  Many of the southern African Americans migrated to a place called Harlem and this is where it all began.  Harlem became the breeding ground for blues and jazz and gave birth to a new generation of Negro Artist, who referred to themselves as the New Negro.  The New Negro was the foundation for a era called the Harlem renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance allowed for the manifestation of the double consciousness of the Negro race as demonstrated by artists such as Langston Hughes. During the height of the Harlem Renaissance Langston Hughes created poetry that was not only artistically and musically sound but also captured a blues essence giving life to a new style of poetry as it depicted the African American struggles with self and society leading Langston Hughes to be one of the most influential icons of the Harlem Renaissance.  One thing is for sure, Hughes consistent use of common themes allows them to be the very basis of the Harlem Renaissance.

            Langston Hughes was one of the most influential writers during the Harlem Renaissance. With the use of blues and Jazz Hughes managed to convey a range of different themes all revolving around the Negro. “[Langston Hughes] The first poet to transform the idioms of blues and jazz into poetic verse” (Johnson and Farrell  55).  This use of blues in written work was called the blues aesthetics.  Hughes’s “Bound No’th Blues” is a perfect example of the Blues Aesthetics.  “The blues reflects the trials and tribulations of the Negro in America on a secular level” (Waldron 140).  “Bound No’th Blues” reflects the journey of a southern African American who migrates to the North and directly speaks of his sorrows as seen in the following verse:

Hates to be lonely,
Lawd, I hates to be sad.
Says I hates to be lonely,
Hates to be lonely an’ sad,
But ever friend you finds seems
Like they try to do you bad. [13-18]


This verse conveys the very ability of the blues during the Harlem Renaissance as an channel for  African Americans to release their frustrations through the music.  The blues was the heart of Harlem as African American artistry grew in number and popularity.

            A very important detail in identifying the blues is its structure.  Blues is created in the AAB structure.  In Hughes’s “Bound No’th Blues” if you look closely at the end of each sentence rather than the actual line you will find the same AAB structure but there are slight alteration within it, for example in the first stanza:

Goin’ down the road, Lawd,
Goin’ down the road.
Down the road, Lawd,
Way,way down the road.
Got to find somebody
To help me carry this load.[ 1- 6]


“The repeated first line has dropped a word, and the repeated second line has changed by dropping on word and adding others in its place.  This changing of lines helps keep the flow of the poem without ruining the effectiveness of the repetition” (Waldron 142).  Much of the language and raw emotions conveyed within Langston Hughes’ poetry and other written work directly correlates to the blues.

             The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B  DuBois states, "It is a peculiar sensation, this double -consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of merging one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tap of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.  One ever feels his twoness- an American, a Negro; two souls. Two un-reconciled strivings, two warring ideals in one dark body…" During the Harlem Renaissance double consciousness played an important role within the artist and their work.  Langston Hughes and his steel driven opinion of how a true Negro Artist should be, poured along the pages of his manifesto, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,” and the overwhelming spread over to his poetry such as “The Weary Blues.”

                  It would seem that Hughes felt so strongly about double consciousness that in his manifesto, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” he addressed the issue head on as he starts the essay:

One of the most promising of the young Negro poets said to me once, “I want to be a poet-not a Negro poet,” meaning , I believe, “I want to write like a white poet”;  meaning subconsciously “I would like to be a white poet”; meaning behind that, “I would like to be white.” And I was sorry the young man said that, for no great poet has ever been afraid of being himself.  And I doubted then that, with his desire to run away spiritually from his race, this boy would ever be a great poet.  But this is the mountain standing in the way  of any true Negro art in America- this urge within the race to ward whiteness, the desire to pour racial individuality into the mold of American standardization, and to be as little Negro and as much American as possible.


The fact that Hughes wrote such an intense work expressing the constant and inescapable experience of a African American Artist in America  reveals his own struggles with the matter. 

 “The Weary Blues” by Langston Hughes is filled with the Blues Aesthetics that Hughes commonly used.  However, this work also conveys Dubois’ description of double consciousness. By continually referring to the singer as a Negro it is deliberately made obvious that the musician was not just a musician, but an African American musician.   Langston Hughes used vivid imagery to express the striking difference as he writes, “With his ebony hands on each Ivory key” (9).  The Ivory keys represent the Part of America that he wants to be part of but his darkness won’t allow him entry.  The singer is being torn between his feeling towards being American and a Negro especially when he says “I ain’t got nobody in all this world, I ain’t got nobody but ma self”(19-20). This is Harlem, the need to be acknowledged and respected by self and the Negro counterpart.  The work manages to depict the isolation that African Americans  are wedged between when dealing with double consciousness. “The Core issue of double or multiple consciousness is the mediation of the self-perspective, the acquisition of self-knowledge through mechanisms controlled by a hostile other”(Davis 277).  He is left out of white society because of his skin color, and he is left out of the black world because he has a desire to fit into the white world.

The Harlem Renaissance was in part due to the Great Migration from the South to the North in search of a better life.  Many poor African Americans crowded into urban cities in search of opportunity and an escape from the racial abuse they faced in the south.  This event gave birth to a new period called the Harlem Renaissance where the new Negro was born and African Americans found voice through Art.  One of these African Americans, New Negro was Langston Hughes whose poetry was often about the African American experience of the migration to the north from the south.

The Great Migration was an important topic in Hughes’ poems.  It was the theme of various poems such as "The South," "Harlem: A Dream Deferred" and “One Way Ticket” which reflected the migration of African American as they ran from southern oppression.  “One Way Ticket”  immediately reveals that it is a migration poem, as the speaker states:

I pick up my life
And take it on the train
To Los Angeles, Bakersfield,
Seattle, Oakland, Salt Lake,
Any place that is
North and West.
and not South [9- 15]

The speaker plainly states his need to go anywhere but the south.  The south represents nothing but oppression and hate.  The poem goes on to express what aspects of the south he is leaving


I am fed up
With Jim Crow laws,
People who are cruel
And afraid,
Who lynch and run,
Who are scared of me
And me of them.
I pick up my life
And take it away [16-24]


There is a feeling of taking control of ones life the moment the speaker decided to go to the north and move away from the south.  There’s a slight understanding of how the Harlem Renaissance came into existence as African Americans began to express themselves in hopes of having control of their existence.

                  “The Harlem Renaissance was shaped by the Great Migration.  Seeking jobs and a better

way of life than that offered in the economically stagnant South, African Americans

began moving to northern cities during the early 20th century. Migration to urban centers

and an increase in jazz clubs and black publishing ventures were occurring in the

Caribbean and Europe as well”(Trotter 31).  Understandably migration is often touched upon within the works of African American artist.  As you may already know Hughes’ poem “Bound No’th Blues” is the very representation of not only the blues, double consciousness but also the action of migrating, as the speaker states that he is moving from the south to the north. 

During the Harlem Renaissance African Americans struggled with the image white America had of them and their own image from the African American perspective, but this was also seen as a benefit.  The ability to see in more ways then one and connect it into their lives worked to uplift the race.  Langston Hughes poetry revealed a constant struggle between himself and his race, even dedicating an entire manifesto entitled “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” a work that demonstrated Hughes talent that went beyond poetry and gave voice to not only Harlem, but African American as a whole.  Double Consciousness is one of the pillars of the Harlem Renaissance and affected African Americans everywhere as seen in Hughes’s poem “The Weary Blues”.  The blues was a very important aspect of harlem and the African American Culture.  Langston Hughes was one of the first poet to illustrate the blues and maintain it’s passions through his poetry.  Many times, as seen in various poems such as  “Bound No’th Blues” and “One Way Ticket” we can see the influence of the Great Migration from South to the north.  The Harlem Renaissance was an outlet for the emotional, creative  outlet for the African American Artist. If not for the contribution of Langston Hughes, the Harlem Renaissance would not come into play.


DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.

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Works Cited

Davis, Author P. "The Harlem of Langston Hughes' Poetry." Phylon (1940-1956) 4th ser. 13.4 (1952): 276-283. Clark Atlanta University. Web. <www.jstor.org...>.

Johnson, Patricia A., and Walter C. Farrell. "How Langston Hughes Used the Blues." Melus Oppression and Ethnic Literature 6.1 (1971): 55-63. The Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States (MELUS). Web. <www.jstor.org>.

Trotter, Joe W. "The Great Migration." OAH Magazine of History World War I 17.1 (2002): 31-33. Organization of American Historians. Web. <www.jstor.org...>.

Waldron, Edward E. "The Blues Poetry of Langston Hughes." Negro American Literature Forum 5.4 (1971): 140-49. St. Louis University. Web. <www.jstor.org>.

DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.