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West Chester University

Fall 2001

Spring 2002

West Chester University

Fall 2002

 

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Course Information
  Lit 165 Syllabus
  ENG 020 Syllabus
  About the Instructor

Notes for Introduction to Literature
  Approaching Literature
  Notes on the Art of Fiction: Early Forms
  The Short Story
  Graduate Students Define the Art of Fiction
  Bartleby the Scrivener - Questions for Analysis
  Notes on Melville
  Critical Approaches to Literature
  A Vocabulary for Short Fiction and Beyond
  Study Guide for Fiction Exam
  Reading Poetry
  The Craft of Poetry
  A Catalogue of Poems
  Notes on Langston Hughes
  Lines of Continuity
  Poetry Take Home Exam
  The Birth of Drama
  Oedipus
  A Doll House
  Study Guide for the Final Exam
  A Glossary of Literary Terms

Notes for Basic Writing (ENG 020)
  The Rhetorical Situation
  Essay #1 Assignment Sheet
  Workshop Assignment for Essay#1
  How to Write Descriptively
  Building a Thesis
  Overcoming Reader's Block
  Analysis and the Culture of Advertising
  Essay #2 Assignment Sheet
  Writing Effective Introductions
  Writing Effective Conclusions
  Propaganda Analysis
  Politics and the English Language
  Propaganda: A Sample Analysis
  Midterm Exam: Tips for Writing on the Spot
  Notes on Rational Argument
  Mapping the Parts of an Arugment

General Announcements
  Announcements for LIT 165
  Assignments for LIT 165
  Announcements for ENG 020
  Assignments for ENG 020

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  A Weblog for LIT 165
  A Weblog for ENG 020

Join the Conversation
  LIT 165 Discussion List
  ENG 020 Discussion List


 

~~ Notes on Langston Hughes ~~


[Painting by Winold Reiss]

 

* * * Page references in the following notes are to The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature. Ed. Michael Meyer. Boston/New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2000. * * *

Hughes' personal history had deep roots in the African American struggle for freedom and equality. His maternal grandfather took part in John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859, a failed attempt to mobilize a slave rebellion just before the civil war. Although his grandfather was killed in that raid, he was never forgotten. Langston had his grandfather's shawl for a bedcover as a young boy, and you can imagine the stories his grandmother told him when he asked questions about its many bullet holes and bloodstains. And you can imagine, probably, the mixture of pride and anguish he must have felt.

And you can imagine, too, how such a boy might grow to be a writer who never shied away from celebrating racial pride in spite of the contempt the larger society expressed toward his race. As your textbook tells us: "Throughout his long career as a professional writer, Hughes remained true to the African American heritage he celebrated in his writings, which were frankly "racial in theme and treatment, derived from the life I know." Hughes published an essay called "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain" in 1926, encouraging other African-American artists to integrate their racial legacy and not flee from it. Here's the excerpt from that essay reprinted in your textbook:

We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If whit people are pleased, we are glad. If they are not, it doesn't matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too. The tom-tom cries and the tom-tom laughs. If colored people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, their displeasure doesn't matter either. We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves. (p. 815)

This fierce racial pride came somewhat at a cost to Hughes. His own father never understood why he needed to write about, much less celebrate, the black experience, and Hughes never learned to accept his father's internalized contempt for blacks (p. 815).

Langston Hughes' style is to write using a simple, natural diction easily understood, easily accessible to ordinary people without special training or literary background. He didn't want the enjoyment of poetry to be only an "elite" experience, but something within reach of the ordinary person on the street. And so the voice in his poems is the voice of ordinary people, its rhythms the rhythm of the music that was popular in the neighborhoods where he lived--in spite of the fact that those rhythms and those voices were felt by some to be "embarrassing handicap[s] and an impediment to social progress" (p. 816). When you read (or better yet hear) Langston Hughes, you can hear the blues, hear the jazz.

Rent-Party° Shout: For a Lady Dancer (1930)

Whip it to a jelly!
Too bad Jim!
Mamie's got ma man--
An' I can't find him.
Shake that thing! O!
Shake it slow!
That man I love is
Mean an' low.
Pistol an' razor!
Razor an' gun!
If I sees ma man he'd
Better run--
For I'll shoot him in de shoulder,
Else I'll cut him down,
Cause I knows I can find him
When he's in de ground--
Then can't no other women
Have him layin' round.
So play it, Mr. Nappy!
Yo' music's fine!
I'm gonna kill that
Man o' mine!

°Rent-Party: In Harlem during the 1920's, parties were given that charged admission to raise money for rent.

"Jazz to me is one of the inherent expressions of Negro life in America: the eternal tom-tom beating in the Negro soul--the tom-tom of revolt against weariness in a white world, a world of subway trains, and work, work, work; the tom-tom of joy and laughter, and pain swallowed in a smile. Yet the Philadelphia clubwoman is ashamed to say that her race created it and she does not like me to write about it. The old subconscious "white is best" runs through her mind. Years of study under white teachers, a lifetime of white books, pictures, and papers, and white manners, morals, and Puritan standards made her dislike the spirituals. And now she turns up her nose at jazz and all its manifestations--likewise almost everything else distinctly racial. She doesn't care for the Winold Reiss portraits of Negroes because they are "too Negro." She does not want a true picture of herself from anybody. She wants the artist to flatter her, to make the white world believe that all Negroes are as smug and as near white in soul as she wants to be. But to my mind, it is the duty of the younger Negro artist, if he accepts any duties at all from outsiders, to change through the force of his art that old whispering "I want to be white," hidden in the aspirations of his people, to "Why should I want to be white? I am a Negro--and beautiful!"

--Langston Hughes, from "The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountian," The Nation, June 23, 1926.


["Jitterbugs" Paintings by William H. Johnson 1940-1945]

 

 

 

     

 


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