In essence, the Harlem Renaissance was a period of cultural celebration in American society. Why was the Harlem Renaissance an important period in American history? Apparently, African Americans had undergone a time of slavery and fight towards the abolition of slave trades. As a result of such harsh treatment, the African Americans were forced to migrate towards the North from the south. Notably, this happened in the 1890s. This paper proposes to discuss each author's role in the Harlem Renaissance, evidence of double consciousness in their literary works as well as a primary theme in the work of art during this critical period. The overall shifting to the North led to the movement of African Americans to the urban North. The period when African American culture was reborn is referred to as the Harlem Renaissance. A well-known writer in the Harlem Renaissance was Langston Hughes. Other examples of writers in the Harlem Renaissance were Claude McKay and Jean Toomer.
This paper tackles two poems from the Harlem Renaissance time period. The first poem is titled, Heritage by Countee Cullen and the second one is, I Too Sing America by Langston Hughes. These two authors played important roles within the period of Harlem Renaissance when the poems were being composed (Cullen, Countee, & Gerald Lyn). Countee Cullen's main role and importance was to do away with the ideas that racial background was to determine the kind of poetic work the poet was to come up with.
How Did the Great Migration Lead To the Harlem Renaissance
At the time of the great migration in the 20th century, quite a number of black people shifted and settled in the neighborhood of New York City at Harlem. This group of people found opportunities of expressing themselves through the work of literature. The set work of literature was composed of music, dances, and other works of Art. Notably, this led to the emergence of the black-American literary works and therefore the period was referred to as the Harlem Renaissance period.
Characteristics of Harlem Renaissance Poetry
The period began in the year 1990 and went all through until 1940. Primarily, the inspiration to the most Harlem Renaissance poets was an individual by the name Paul Dunbar. Regrettably, he died in 1994. Since then there are quite a number of such poets in American society. For instance, Langston Hughes, James Weldon, and Claude McKay among others were a kind of inspiration of generational literal work. The style of Art used in the Harlem Renaissance poems makes use of storytelling devices (Hull). Reading of the poem evokes an emotion intended in the poem. Punctuation in this kind of poem was of great importance and should, therefore, be put into consideration whenever we are reading the poems.
Good Examples of Poems of the Harlem Renaissance
In the examples of John Keats and Vincent Miley, Cullen made a consideration of the American Heritage poetic to be taken by any American white of the same age. While Langston Hughes in his manifesto in contrast to Counties role announced that the poets who were black were to come up with different Negro Art consisting of the zeal in the journey to whiteness. This is clearly illustrated in the source, The Negro Artist, as well as the Racial Mountain. Hughes' role here reveals primitivism and the practice of authentic American work of Art and to have them included in the Black American literary work.
The term double consciousness was introduced by Du Bois to refer to the internal conflict within oneself in being African and American at the same period. This basically happened with the black soul who refuses to be completely black thus they get themselves into an internal conflict. Langston Hughes portrayed himself as part of the African side of Harlem Renaissance (Watson). This is openly evident in his source The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain. Notably, this was during the jazz age, Hughes even though a proponent of the African poet could not clearly overcome the Americanization in his work of Art. It is, therefore, a clear demonstration of double consciousness in his work. Another element that clearly indicates a double consciousness is a rhythmical structure used by Hughes in the poem. Essentially, it was American but later penetrated into non-European poetry. This forms part of hip-hop and rap, especially in contemporary society.
Initially, Hughes makes use of the 12 bar pattern in his poems which is an American pattern which later adopts other designs like eight or sixteen bar outlines which are more African. As for Countee Cullen, one of the elements of double consciousness is the title of the poem itself, Heritage. The title portrays how the speaker feels torn apart between two heritages, American and African. Additionally, the heritage of being a Christian and an American at the same time brought out the aspect of double consciousness. The entire poem is often analyzed as a reflection of the dilemma of double consciousness where some lines are relevant to the theme (Watson). With the first lines celebrating the African heritage, line seven contracts the idea and the poet defines herself as, one three centuries removed, from the scenes his father loved.
His poems mostly portray ways of preserving and transmitting western culture. Even the poets, as well as books he has written about African heritage, are basically inscribed by white people and thus adopt a western perspective. The details he has about African culture are basically read from books and not acquired as first-hand knowledge thus there is the incorporation of the western culture in the literary works leading to double consciousness. Moreover, the author is double dispossessed emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. Being a Christian takes him away from the African ways even further.
There are quite a number of analyzed themes of the Harlem Renaissance poetry. One of the primary themes is racial identity. Blacks had started appreciating their culture as well as identifying themselves with it. Notably, this is clearly shown in the first six lines of the poem Heritage by Countee Cullen. Langston Hughes also portrays this theme by his cry that he was not free in a country with freedom. He quotes I swear to the Lord, I still can't see why democracy means everybody but me. Another major theme is the black versus white culture conflict. Although during the Renaissance period all these people were black, their intellectual level forced them to follow a white tradition.
Cullen, Countee, and Gerald Lyn Early. My soul's high song: the collected writings of Countee Cullen, the voice of the Harlem Renaissance. Anchor Books, 1991.
Hull, Gloria T. Color, Sex & Poetry: three women writers of the Harlem Renaissance. No. 430. Indiana University Press, 1987.
Watson, Steven. The Harlem Renaissance: Hub of African-American Culture, 1920-1930. New York: Pantheon Books, 1995.
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