At a time when the blacks were despised in America, Hughes proudly and boldly presented himself as a member of the “black” community. Underlying all his works is his firm pride in his Afro-American identity and his unconventional yet firm faith that the Negroes are an inseparable part of the American community and mankind at large. For instance, his poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” is written in a very personal tone and echoes the feelings and sufferings of the black American cluster as a whole. The poem also highlights the gamut of roles played by the blacks in the course of history. All his poems seem to be echoing his central belief that: “My seeking has been to explain and illuminate the Negro condition in America and obliquely that of all humankind.” (Rampersad, 2001, p. 418) His poetry painted pictures of their lives and explored the various complexities prevalent in their living conditions.
His main purpose was to use literature as a tool to uphold the struggle, the strengths, the courage and the spirit of the Afro-American working class, thus boosting their morale. He wrote his poem “Mother to Son” as a eulogy to his Negro identity thereby encouraging all his fellow men to overlook their grief and agony and rather focus on their growth and development. The poem is told in the voice of an aged woman to her son who claims that: “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair”. Her voice represents the history, the hardships and the resulting wisdom of all his black ancestors who have undergone the phases of slavery and freedom.
Though his poems are focussed on enhancing the “black” America’s image, it does not necessarily restrict his readers to the black community. His poems are intended for all Americans, or rather all of mankind. He tried to persuade America to accept the Negroes as a part of its life, by emphasizing the idea of “black is beautiful” in his poem “My People” when he says: “The night is beautiful, so the faces of my people”. (Hughes, 2012, p. 71) A similar vein runs through another of his poems “Theme for English B” in which he concludes that: “You are white – yet a part of me, as I am part of you. That’s American”. Through his verse, he stood up against the practice of racial discrimination and adverse social conditions of his time. He aimed at harping at the conscience of all his readers and attempted to extend the theme of “black is beautiful” beyond the pages of verse and transform it into a social reality.
A poem that abounds in Hughes’ optimism is “I Too” which expresses the poet’s firm belief that the world will soon realize the evils of racial discrimination and the wrongs inflicted on the Negroes. The world will soon accept them as an integral part of mainstream society and preserve and protect their identity and esteem. The poem asserts his firm faith in the future state of affairs when he claims: “I, too, am America”.
Rampersad, Arnold. The Life of Langston Hughes: Volume II: 1914-1967, I Dream a World. Oxford University Press. (2001): p. 418
Hughes, Langston. “My People”. Langston Hughes-Poems. PoemHunter.com. (2012). p.71. Retrieved February 12, 2014, from
Please note: The other poems referred to in this essay, which need to be cited by with page nos. from your textbook are:
“The Negro Speaks of Rivers”
“Mother to Son”
“Theme for English B”