Harlem Renaissance, or New Negro Movement, is a cultural mainstream that was led by few Afro-American writers. The period of its popularity and prosperity is mostly assigned to the 1920-1930s. The development of Harlem Renaissance resulted in the enlarged influence of the Afro-American culture on American culture in general. Moreover, a new image of an intelligent Afro-American appeared during the Harlem Renaissance. The paper contains analysis of the poems by Hughes Langston and Claude McKay in the classical context of the Harlem Renaissance epoch.
Place New Order
According to Lisa Collins and Margo Crawford (2006), the new mainstream ideas had touched all aspects of contemporary black nationalism: the relationship between black America and the Third World; the development of a black cultural thrust, the right of oppressed peoples to self-defense and armed struggle (p. 6). In fact, this approach of the new Afro-American leaders struggling to prove their legal rights for equal social benefits has changed the American history. As Bodenner (2013) states, Renaissance artists have an obligation to convey respectable images of African Americans to white society (p. 1). This cultural, and consequently, social transformation led to the establishment of new social order which, in turn, elevated social ego and converted it into the global democracy center.
Hughes Langston is one of the most outstanding representatives of the Harlem Renaissance epoch who left the rich heritage of various genres of literature. As the majority of the Harlem Renaissance authors, Langston maintained the communist mainstream, being convinced that social equality is the best guarantee of removed segregation between citizens. The poet did not support American participation in the World War II; however, he changed his mind with the thesis that the war would allow Afro-American citizens to fight racial segregation. Thus, Langstons charismatic approach and compassion to all the victims of racial segregation as well as his numerous attempts to change this condition through media publications, defined the poets exceptional role in Harlem Renaissance movement.
Hughes Langstons poem Democracy is one of the best examples representing typical Harlem Renaissance conception and a strong will of Afro-Americans to racial equality. In the historical context, the poem was written during the period of Great Depression and economic crisis which emerged in America between 1929 and 1939. The poem clearly explains the authors feeling about performed artificial freedom and democracy. At this moment, his consciousness becomes divided into the ego of presence (citizen) and the alter-ego of future (ancestor). The first one tries to awake all Afro-Americans so they would not afraid to fight for their rights: I tire so of hearing people say, Let things take their course. Tomorrow is another day (Langston, 1995, p. 285). For the alter-ego, it is important to secure care about descendants: Freedom is a strong seed (Langston, 1995, p. 285).
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Another poem by Langston is called Negro, and it has one of the strongest energetics. The poets consciousness passes through different transformations of his literary brother who has been suffering since Caesar told me to keep his door-steps clean (Langston, 1995, p. 8). The character of the poem is fatal as the world beyond my Africa is alien to the author. However, both poems represent two conflicts that arose since ancient times: racial inequity and limitations of the American Dream for African Americans. In Negro, there is no hint on possible changes; it seems that the past forms Ive been are used for the future as well (Langston, 1995, p. 8). The author avoids future forms, which inclines the reader to the direct feeling of fatality. The same problems are emphasized in Democracy: Democracy will not come. In this poem, the author tries to pay attention to the absurd of being in the status of obvious slave when people having the same rights to stand on two feet refuse to fight for them (Langston, 1995, p. 285).
Claude McKay is another remarkable poet who is famous for writing in a typical West-Indian style. Along with other African-American students who have got good education, he contributed to changing the view that the race was the key measurement for humans intelligence. His literature is rather naturalistic, and despite various critics, it reveals some aspects of peoples private life. In his literature, including his novel Home to Harlem, McKay highlights two basic topics that are closely related (Huggins, 2007, p. 19). The first theme is the life of the Afro-Americans both in Jamaica and the United States, while the second one concerns intellectual duality as the main aspect for the Afro-Americans to deal with in racially prejudiced society. In those two points, there is obvious evidence of double-consciousness as one of the key measures for the Harlem renaissance writers.
The poem America is one of McKays best works as it touches the issue of cultural acceptation of the country in conditions of social segregation and discrimination. Even the mood of the poem reminds inspiration; however this is tragic inspiration dictated by impossibility to make changes. McKay (1922) mentioned: I love this cultured hell that tests my youth! This moment can be interpreted as an accepted challenge for the character of the poem to fight (p. 6). In the literary work Enslaved, McKay repeats the motives of Langston while speaking about historical approach to understanding another race. The conflict between Africa and the Western world is described in the following line: enslaved and lynched, denied a human place (McKay, 1922, p. 32). It opens a new danger because, instead of integration within one country, people separate, destroying nation as a structure.
Thus, the Harlem Renaissance assigns the dual consciousness between racial inequality and segregation removal. The poetry of this period is simple, but it has a deep sense. In many cases, it touches the historical and cultural issues, making the problem of the New Negro Movement doomed. For sure, the Harlem Renaissance inspires to write a strophe in remembrance that will be less tragic but truthful:
Between the lines of tombs,
While talking to the Silence,
Abruptly hearing bombs,
Abruptly feeling violence.
The Black philosopher took his head,
And spoke to his White brother:
Remember heroes, dear friend,
They died for our power.