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The Harlem Renaissance Essay, Research Paper

The Harlem Renaissance

Until the first part of the Twentieth Century, Caucasian artists dominated the world of poetry. White poetry written about the experiences of white people was the only kind of verse most people had ever heard. With the arrival of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920’s, this relatively cultured world of American poetry was shaken to its foundations. The term Harlem Renaissance refers to an artistic, cultural, and social burgeoning of writings about race and the African American’s place in American life during the early 1920’s and 1930’s. It was a time of political advancements, social criticism, and protest as well as the growth of literature. Harlem was the center of urban black life. Many African Americans, who wanted to write, compose music, effect social change, or to have the best chance of changing their circumstances went to Harlem. Harlem, New York had been considered the heart of African American life, hence the name The Harlem Renaissance. Black urban migration, combined with trends in a American society toward experimentation in the 1920’s, and the rise of radical black intellectuals – including Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and Zora Neale Hurston –all contributed to the particular styles, themes, and the extraordinary success of black artists during the Harlem Renaissance period.

Langston Hughes, a primary voice of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920’s, was known as “The Poet Laureate of Harlem”. Hughes had pride in his black heritage, strong political beliefs, and the will to survive in a society where racial equality had to be fought for. Hughes’ strength and determination shine through his poetry, he does not hide the fact that he lived with racism, but talks of his strength and to stand tall and believe in a better future. Early in his career Langston Hughes’s wrote, “Mother to Son” which had appeared in Langston Hughes’s first collection of poetry, The Weary Blues in 1926. “Mother to Son” is a dramatic monologue, spoken not by the poet’s own voice but in a imagined speaker in this case a black mother to her son. Using a metaphor of a stairway, the mother tells her son that the journey of life resembles a long, hard, dark stairway than a glide down a “crystal stair”. The “crystal stair” is a metaphor for the American dream and its promise that all Americans shall have equal opportunities. In this poem, Hughes represents the personal, collective, and spiritual importance of struggle, endurance, and faith. Langston Hughes has earned a place amongst the greatest poets America has ever produced. More than that, Hughes has given a voice to the African American experience. Hughes poetry announced to the world that the streets of black America contained a culture rich and vibrant. This announcement was to become his life’s mission, something he foretold long before his name became a household name.

Countee Cullen was another contributor to the Harlem Renaissance expressing the themes in the life of his race and the shedding of light on social reality. Countee Cullen, a black middle-class New Yorker, experienced these issues mostly in a divisive fashion: he wanted to be a traditional poet but felt it his duty to speak about a black experience that was not entirely his own. As a poet Cullen was conservative, he did not ignore racial themes, but based his works on the models of Nineteenth century Romantic poets. He urged Langston Hughes to avoid black jazz rhythms in his poetry and wrote: ’Yet do I marvel at this curious thing/To make a poet black, and bid him sing!’ His desire to be known as a poet, not as a black poet, is central to “Yet Do I Marvel.” In this poem the character does not doubt God’s goodness or his willingness to explain curious phenomena, but he has finally been pushed to the limit of Christian creditability. The poem laments a clash between blackness and creativity, but he finds a contradiction of his own predicament in a racist society: he is black and a poet.

Zora Neale Hurston was the most creative and accomplished black woman writer in America from the 1930s through the 1960s. Zora, growing up in an all black town, started to notice the differences between blacks and whites at about the age of thirteen. Growing up in Eatonville, Florida, Zora was only exposed to white people as they drove through her town to get to Orlando. In the early stages of Zora’s life blacks and whites had little difference in her eyes. This view changed as a result of her being sent to a school in Jacksonville. Now being outside her town of Eatonville, she began to experience what it was like to be colored. In “How it Feels to be Colored Me”(1928), Zora talks of when she first discovered differences between white people and black people. As she shows this difference she claims that she has no race. During these times, she seems to revert to her childhood view that people are just people. Zora Neale Hurston called attention to herself because she insisted upon being herself when blacks were urged to make an effort to promote better relations between the races. She felt there was something special about her blackness that others can benefit by just being around her. Her works may be seen as manifestos of selfhood, as affirmations of blackness and the positive sides of black life.

Part of the energy that fuelled the Harlem Renaissance was the belief that black cultural achievement in the “high” arts would socially and spiritually uplift the race. Clearly this has not happened. Where the legacy of the Harlem Renaissance remains, is a profoundly romantic one for the black middle-class on the streets, where a great majority of black culture is made. The spirit and ethnicity of African American literature involves various themes such as: folk styles; protests against dehumanization and discrimination; moral and racial consciousness; cultural nationalism; rebellion against racism; and a search for self-realization by the characters. On the other hand, the universal theme of nature, love and death are also represents by these authors’ works.

The Harlem Renaissance

Until the first part of the Twentieth Century, Caucasian artists dominated the world of poetry. White poetry written about the experiences of white people was the only kind of verse most people had ever heard. With the arrival of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920’s, this relatively cultured world of American poetry was shaken to its foundations. The term Harlem Renaissance refers to an artistic, cultural, and social burgeoning of writings about race and the African American’s place in American life during the early 1920’s and 1930’s. It was a time of political advancements, social criticism, and protest as well as the growth of literature. Harlem was the center of urban black life. Many African Americans, who wanted to write, compose music, effect social change, or to have the best chance of changing their circumstances went to Harlem. Harlem, New York had been considered the heart of African American life, hence the name The Harlem Renaissance. Black urban migration, combined with trends in a American society toward experimentation in the 1920’s, and the rise of radical black intellectuals – including Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and Zora Neale Hurston –all contributed to the particular styles, themes, and the extraordinary success of black artists during the Harlem Renaissance period.

Langston Hughes, a primary voice of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920’s, was known as “The Poet Laureate of Harlem”. Hughes had pride in his black heritage, strong political beliefs, and the will to survive in a society where racial equality had to be fought for. Hughes’ strength and determination shine through his poetry, he does not hide the fact that he lived with racism, but talks of his strength and to stand tall and believe in a better future. Early in his career Langston Hughes’s wrote, “Mother to Son” which had appeared in Langston Hughes’s first collection of poetry, The Weary Blues in 1926. “Mother to Son” is a dramatic monologue, spoken not by the poet’s own voice but in a imagined speaker in this case a black mother to her son. Using a metaphor of a stairway, the mother tells her son that the journey of life resembles a long, hard, dark stairway than a glide down a “crystal stair”. The “crystal stair” is a metaphor for the American dream and its promise that all Americans shall have equal opportunities. In this poem, Hughes represents the personal, collective, and spiritual importance of struggle, endurance, and faith. Langston Hughes has earned a place amongst the greatest poets America has ever produced. More than that, Hughes has given a voice to the African American experience. Hughes poetry announced to the world that the streets of black America contained a culture rich and vibrant. This announcement was to become his life’s mission, something he foretold long before his name became a household name.

Countee Cullen was another contributor to the Harlem Renaissance expressing the themes in the life of his race and the shedding of light on social reality. Countee Cullen, a black middle-class New Yorker, experienced these issues mostly in a divisive fashion: he wanted to be a traditional poet but felt it his duty to speak about a black experience that was not entirely his own. As a poet Cullen was conservative, he did not ignore racial themes, but based his works on the models of Nineteenth century Romantic poets. He urged Langston Hughes to avoid black jazz rhythms in his poetry and wrote: ’Yet do I marvel at this curious thing/To make a poet black, and bid him sing!’ His desire to be known as a poet, not as a black poet, is central to “Yet Do I Marvel.” In this poem the character does not doubt God’s goodness or his willingness to explain curious phenomena, but he has finally been pushed to the limit of Christian creditability. The poem laments a clash between blackness and creativity, but he finds a contradiction of his own predicament in a racist society: he is black and a poet.

Zora Neale Hurston was the most creative and accomplished black woman writer in America from the 1930s through the 1960s. Zora, growing up in an all black town, started to notice the differences between blacks and whites at about the age of thirteen. Growing up in Eatonville, Florida, Zora was only exposed to white people as they drove through her town to get to Orlando. In the early stages of Zora’s life blacks and whites had little difference in her eyes. This view changed as a result of her being sent to a school in Jacksonville. Now being outside her town of Eatonville, she began to experience what it was like to be colored. In “How it Feels to be Colored Me”(1928), Zora talks of when she first discovered differences between white people and black people. As she shows this difference she claims that she has no race. During these times, she seems to revert to her childhood view that people are just people. Zora Neale Hurston called attention to herself because she insisted upon being herself when blacks were urged to make an effort to promote better relations between the races. She felt there was something special about her blackness that others can benefit by just being around her. Her works may be seen as manifestos of selfhood, as affirmations of blackness and the positive sides of black life.

Part of the energy that fuelled the Harlem Renaissance was the belief that black cultural achievement in the “high” arts would socially and spiritually uplift the race. Clearly this has not happened. Where the legacy of the Harlem Renaissance remains, is a profoundly romantic one for the black middle-class on the streets, where a great majority of black culture is made. The spirit and ethnicity of African American literature involves various themes such as: folk styles; protests against dehumanization and discrimination; moral and racial consciousness; cultural nationalism; rebellion against racism; and a search for self-realization by the characters. On the other hand, the universal theme of nature, love and death are also represents by these authors’ works.


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