Crystal Rivas October 14,2010
African American Fiction
Langston Hughes’ “The Blues I’m Playing” and how it Corresponds to “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain”
Langston Hughes’ “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” is a manifesto that addresses the issues of the Double consciousness within the negro, and raises awareness of the struggle a Negro artist is faced with as both sides of the racial fence demands the artist and bribes the artist to depict the world as they see fit. The work reveals the author’s passion for Blues and Jazz. The Negro created blues and jazz, and he reveals a sense of displeasure as he discusses certain Negro individuals who deny their culture in arts. “The Blues I’m Playing,” also written by Hughes, is a story about a Negro artist by the name of Oceola and her patronage Mrs. Ellsworth, as they struggle against each other in preserving their ideas of what art is. “The Blues I’m Playing” demonstrates the powerful message of race relations within the world of art, the Negro Artist’s experiences within a world where the white culture dominate, and helps to bring to life the beauty and his passion for the blues and jazz which he discusses in his manifesto “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain.”
The Negro artist struggled within the white dominated world of modern art and was constantly pulled in to both directions of the racial map. In “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain” Hughes’ states, “The Negro artist works against an undertow of sharp criticisms and misunderstanding from his own group and intentional bribes from the white. ‘Oh, be respectable, write about nice people, and show how good ‘we are,’ say the Negroes. ‘Be stereotyped, don’t go too far, don’t shatter our illusions about you, don’t amuse us too seriously. We will pay you’ say the whites.” The Negro artist faces frustrating impediments as she or he tries to follow and artistic path, only to realize that when trying to satisfy one group, you disappoint another. “The Blues I’m Playing” describes and presents a Negros experiences. A Negro artist by the name Oceola consistently keeps her own idea of what “good” music is. Oceola the Negro pianist protégée who was sponsored by an older white woman called Mrs. Ellsworth, was constantly being pulled away from the music she loved playing and into the music Mrs. Ellsworth approved of. Mrs. Ellsworth used her wealth to try and separate Oceola from Jazz and the Blues. This stands as the very example of what Hughes was pointing to in his manifesto; the issues of the Negro artists staying true to their art in a white dominated world where money makes the world turn. Mrs. Ellsworth tried to take over Oceola and shape Oceola into her idea of what an artist should be. As Langston Hughes demonstrates in his manifesto, the Negro artist is constantly being pulled in the directions of what is believed to be art. Art stems from the white standards. It was always based on white standards even if the artist fought against those standards or went along with it.
“The Blues I’m Playing” expresses a message of race relations. Hughes presents the world from the point of view of the Negro and the white upper class, however he does not fully address this issues straightforward as he does in his manifesto. In Hughes manifesto, “The Negro artist and the racial Mountain,” he reveals the self-hate within a Negro as they reject their own culture in hopes of being more “white.” Oceola was not presented with a problem of self-hate and of a need to be white. Hughes embedded in her a strength and dignity that represented of the many Negro American artist that he was fond of as he states, “We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesn’t matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too…” Oceola represented the dignity that many of the Negro artist from his generation, failed to have.
Oceola manifested and presented the love of Blues and Jazz that Hughes wrote about in his essay. “She no longer had pupils or rehearsed the choir, but she still loved to play for Harlem house parties – for nothing – now that she no longer needed the money out of sheer love of jazz.” In his manifesto Hughes expresses his love for the Blues and Jazz. He believed that it was the very soul that sang from within the Negro. “But jazz to me is one of the inherent expressions of Negro life in America; the eternal tom-tom beating in the Negro soul-the tom-tom of revolt against weariness in the white world, a world of subway trains, and work, work, work’ the tom-tom of joy and laughter, and pain swallowed in a smile. “ The importance of the Blues and jazz can be seen in various locations of the story and that includes the title itself. Various times throughout the story Oceola describes her love of the Blues and Jazz. No matter how often Mrs. Ellsworth tried to introduce her to different and what she considered “appropriate” music, Oceola would always come back to her first love the Blues. “And her fingers began to wander slowly up and down the keyboard, flowing into the soft and lazy syncopation of a Negro blues, a blues that deepened and grew into rollicking jazz, then into an earth-throbbing rhythm that shook the lilies in the Persian vases of Mrs. Ellsworth’s music room… ‘No,’ said Oceola simply. ‘This is mine…. Listen…! How sad and gay it is. Blue and happy – laughing and crying…. How white like you and black like me …. How much like a man…. And how much like a woman…. Warm as Pete’s mouth …. These are the blues…. I’m playing.’”
The honesty of Langston Hughes’ feelings and ideas drip from his manifesto, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain and on to his story, “The Blues I’m Playing. Oceola from the “The Blues I’m Playing” portrays Hughes idea of how a Negro artist should be. “The Blues I’m Playing” is a wonderful story that personifies Hughes own passions, and race related issues and how it affects the Negro artist.