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“The Hearing of the Soul”
African Americans, though such an integral part of the nations history, fail to receive the due attention they deserve in all of their literary accomplishments. The Renaissance of the twentieth century that took place in New York is so often ignored when, in actuality, so much was contributed to the world of arts by such a degraded and derided people. It is time for more time then just a day in February to remember Martin Luther King to be spent on the myriad works of the African Americans. This revolution of ideas and spirit was known as the Harlem Renaissance. This time period entailed the beginning of the raising of African Americans social status, both economically and politically. Though not completely accepted by the society at large, they still had the strength to make a difference. Thus, within their own communities, grand steps were made. From such communities evolved the beauty of jazz music.
Making bounds in education, drama, music, and literature alike, this Harlem Renaissance was also known as the New Negro Movement, an accurate name for the rebirth of African Americans previously under great tension. No longer were the writings of the African Americans considered dangerous and unworthy, rather they were now being read and written as much as those of the whites. A new genre of literature had been born with the African Americans. Seeking to correct the false stereotypes and images portrayed of African Americans by the whites, African Americans created a strong sense of understanding of what being Black meant in those times. Such writings instigated racial pride and confidence that gave Blacks a meaning to their lives instead of just being a nigger.
Realizing that America was not yet the racial equal country that it idealized to be, African Americans made sure to keep themselves conscious of what society would react to them. In order to create successful and meaningful literature, African American writers were forced to fully educate themselves on the government and history so as to compile accurate literature. One such writer was James Weldon Johnson; taking on the persona of a black preacher, he was able to greatly impress upon the black community how important it was to have a strong faith in God and in oneself. Catapulting the 10s artistic movement that created a bulk of the first major literary pieces by African Americans, Johnson was the ancestor of great men and women such as Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Wallace Thurman, and W.E.B. Du Bois.
Langston Hughes is often called the poet laureate of Harlem. His poetry is an effective commentary on the adverse conditions faced by blacks in America during the 0th Century. Hughes placed a particular emphasis on Harlem, an area in New York that was predominately Black, which became a Mecca for many hopeful blacks in the first half of the 100s. Hughes has a theme in most of his poetry, in other words his writing style was to write poetry that is called dream deferred. His use of a dream deferred focus in several poems paints a vivid picture of the disappointment and dismay that blacks in America faced in Harlem. Furthermore, as each his poems develop, so does the feeling behind a dream deferred, his words make the reader feel the growing anger and seriousness even more at each new stanza.
In order to understand Hughes idea of the dream deferred, one must have a working knowledge of the history of Harlem. It was first intended to be the home of an upper class white community, many fancy brownstones attracted wealthy whites. Between 106 and 110, when whites were forcing blacks out of their own homes and neighborhoods in uptown Manhattan, the blacks began to move into Harlem to create their communities again. Due to absurd racial fears, the whites in the area began to move out. Between 110 and the early 140s, more blacks began flooding into the area for a safe harbor from all over the world, fleeing from the racial intolerance of the South and the economic problems of the Caribbean and Latin America. At this point, Harlem became an entirely black area where comfort was created for all of them. Although it seemed to be a good thing, this town once filled with much potential, soon became riddled with overpopulation, exploitation, and poverty. Thus, what awaited new arrivals was not a dream; rather, it was a dream deferred. They began to hurt themselves without even knowing it.
Harlem, Hughes first poem, clearly outlines the dream deferred theme, setting the pace for the poems to follow. The poem begins with, What happens to a dream deferred? The poem explains the dream, the promise of Harlem, and what blacks hoped to find there opportunity, improved conditions for living, and the freedom from racial intolerance.
When blacks arrived in Harlem, though, their dream was deferred; instead of the opportunities they had envisioned, they were faced with congestion, mistreatment, and dearth. It is clear that at the beginning of Harlem, the frame of mind that accompanies a dream deferred is a questioning one that begins a search for characterization. This mood, which Hughes develops as each poem progresses, encourages the reader to reflect upon the meaning of a dream deferred, is preparing them for its development. As the poem continues, it lists the different possible fates of a dream that unfortunately never become reality.
Hughes unique poetical vision and insight is the main reason for Hughes prominence. He sometimes has been considered a superior poet than Countee Cullen. Since Cullen had documented his disagreements with Hughes poetry, many claimed that he was limited in vision. However, Cullen did agree with Hughes poetical subject matter. Hughes believed, and practiced, that any aspect of life common to African-Americans was worth writing about. He stated that it was best to include Afro-speech in poetry. It is evident that in Hughes point of view black life was worth philosophizing about. On the other hand, Cullen did not believe that poetry should be used to describe daily life; he believed that poetry should be specifically set apart from everyday life. It was this type of perceptual limitation that set Hughes apart from other African-American poets, including Cullen. Although his views were different, Countee Cullen was also a greatly significant personality during the Harlem Renaissance. It was said that he was an American poet, a leading figure with Langston Hughes in the Harlem Renaissance. His work is also an excellent contribution to the foundation of the Renaissance.
In Countee Cullens poem If You Should Go, he emphasizes on the understanding of human joys and sorrows, for people of all races. The use of different examples exhibits the importance of joy, such as love and dream. Both of the stanzas include a persons feeling or reaction towards joy during happy moments as well as the feelings after the joyous moment has passed. In this poem, Cullen cleverly conveys several different messages to the reader. One of the themes of the poem is that one never realizes what he/she has until it is lost. In this case it refers to joyous moments. In the second stanza, the poet also tells the reader that joy creates an everlasting memory in a persons mind that is then exhibited in the persons personality or the gleam on the [persons] face. Although, Cullen does not mention whom the love is directed towards in the first stanza, and neither what the dream is about in the second stanza the reader can interpret that it has been said in a positive manner. Using a classic example of metaphor, love is compared to the light that brightens a day just the way in which joys brightens peoples lives. Not only in this poem, but also in each of Cullens poem he displays this same ingenious writing style. Cullens contribution to the Harlem Renaissance is a privilege for the era. All of the writers created an amazing outreach to the rest of the world with their different and unique pieces of work.
The writers of the time period described the Negro dilemma the problem of cultural affiliation and the inability to resolve the seamy reality of the present with the dream of ancestral homelands. They explain the paradoxical crisis of self-expression and perception, fulfillment of the white-propagated stereotype of primitivism, while corrupting their noble, yet untamed African impulses. They suffer under the dilemma of political inefficacy, suppressing radical political impulses with the passive-resistant front of a falsely smiling face. Thus, the Negro dilemma seemingly presents itself in full. The writers of the Harlem Renaissance have gracefully portrayed the truth of what the past was like for them, and people today need to recognize that they went through all of this in order to be what they are today. They are a tremendous contribution to the society of the United States today, and without them it most likely would not be as well rounded and diversified as it is now.
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