Langston Hughes Impact on American Literature Past, Present, & Future

Langston Hughes is one of the prominent representatives of Harlem Renaissance. His works are widely studied and are praised for a wonderful mixture of African folk forms and powerful content. He is largely seen as a poet who was able to show the African Americans that it is perfectly possible to express one’s creative potential in new forms that do not copy those which are traditionally associated with the whites. Given this important role that he played in the Harlem Renaissance, it becomes obvious that this poet is worth being explored carefully. This paper will examine the influence of the previous movement and poets on him, the way in which he fits in the concept of modern poetry, and speculate about the way the future scholars will evaluate his contribution.

Speaking of the influences of the previous movement, one should point out that a number of poets that were active in the American literature before are largely seen as those that had inspired Hughes to a certain extent. Among them are Paul Laurence Dunbar, Carl Sandburg, and Walt Whitman (Blake & Robertson 127). One of the major traits that they have in common is that they preferred natural language over the refined language while they were writing their poems. That must have had a significant impact on Hughes and largely shaped his writing style in the future.

Another interesting aspect that should be mentioned with this regard is overall development of the African American community in the various artistic field, not only literature. Thus, one might suggest that the development of jazz music drew the attention of the Hughes and impressed him so much that he became one of the major early contributors to jazz poetry. Furthermore, one may also speculate that the concepts which were widely spread in jazz such as improvisation, uneven rhythm, and diversity of forms have had a significant impact on Hughes as a poet since he also liked experimenting with words to achieve the desired effect in his works.

Speaking of the manner in which he fits the movement of modern poetry, one may be interested in exploring some of his works. The first which should be mentioned is “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”. There are numerous aspects that can be mentioned about it. First of all, it has an unconventional form that makes it seems to be similar to African folk forms rather than conventional poetry. Secondly, its primary focus is to reflect the inner state of the author rather than send a certain complete message. Finally, it is quite interesting how Hughes is able to combine words that otherwise would have seemed to be pejorative such as “muddy” or “dusky” with “golden” and “ancient”.

The next poem that should be explored is called “Harlem”. It was written several decades after the one which was mentioned before was written. So, Hughes at the time was an experienced poet. Indeed, this poem features a lot of elements that should be analyzed. For example, there are many perfect one-syllable rhymes which make it sound like a song for children. However, the content of it reflects on the racial inequality and comments on the tension that exists in the society. The last line “Or does it explode?” is also quite interesting: it is the focal point of the entire poem and it features stress on every syllable which, figuratively speaking, makes it explode at the end of the poem.

If one considers the legacy that Hughes left and how it will be viewed by the future scholars, one might suggest that the works of this author present a great example of the exploration of the so-called “double consciousness”. Indeed, Hughes himself was a person of mixed race and he felt the pressure of the society personally. That is why in many of his works he reflects on how the African Americans can come to terms with their background while living in the United States. Some suggest that his works are particularly interesting from the sociological point of view since they show the social environment from a new perspective.

Another interesting point that should be made is that Hughes may have contributed to paving the way for many forms of literature that are characteristic to African Americans. Indeed, some connect the jazz poetry with the further development of hip-hop (Tracy 170). In spite of the fact that it may be useless to see how Hughes may be related to hip-hop, it is obvious that his fascination with experimentation with words and his approval of forms that are not traditionally associated with the whites shows that it is possible for an African American poet to express oneself successfully without following the conventions that were largely created by the white people. Therefore, this poet contributed to the development of African American literature in general.

Having examined all the points that were mentioned in the paragraphs above, one might suggest that Langston Hughes should be seen as one of the most prominent representatives of the Harlem Renaissance. He was heavily influenced by several poets of the past in that sense that he chose to use common language in order to appeal to the audience. In addition to that, he may have brought some concepts from jazz into his writing. The evidence shows that Hughes favored forms that are traditional for African folklore instead of those associated with the whites. The scholars of the future will remember him for contributing to African American literature in many ways.

Works Cited

Blake, David Haven., and Michael Robertson. Walt Whitman, where the future becomes present. Iowa City, IA: U of Iowa Press, 2008. Print.

Hughes, Langston. “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” Poets.org. Academy of American Poets, 2016. Web. 01 May 2017. <https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/negro-speaks-rivers>.

Hughes, Langston. “Harlem.” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, 2017. Web. 01 May 2017. <https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/46548>.

Jones, Meta DuEwa. The muse is music: jazz poetry from the Harlem Renaissance to the spoken word. Urbana, IL: U of Illinois Press, 2013. Print.

Kelley, James B., and Harold Bloom. Bloom’s how to write about Langston Hughes. New York, NY: Bloom’s Literary Criticism, 2010. Print.

Tracy, Steven C. Langston Hughes & the blues. Urbana, IL: U of Illinois Press, 2001. Print.

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"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

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"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

[Accessed: June 1, 2020]

"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

[Accessed: June 1, 2020]

"The terms offer and acceptance." freeessays.club, 17 May 2016

[Accessed: June 1, 2020]