The Cultural Impact of Langston Hughes

Categories: Langston Hughes

A lot of people like poetry while others despise it. Is it because it’s a list of words and sentences so, they don’t bother to read it because they might not like to read? Although some people might hate poetry others love it for its the use of a form of speech to cover an ongoing issue. It is used to talk to other people in a specific style depending on the writer. In this case, it’s Langston Hughes.

Hughes knew the right words to put in his poem and it meant a lot to others especially from the 1920s to the 1960s. In order to deal with ongoing issues in the world, poetry is a key component to get to people’s hearts and inform them what’s going on with this world. Langston Hughes was born into a time in American History where African Americans had no freedom of speech or the right to vote. Growing up in many different cities and living with many relatives, Langston Hughes experienced poverty.

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He used poetry to speak to the people. Langston Hughes is a pioneer of African American literature and the Harlem Renaissance era (Sundquist para. 1). There aren’t many pictures of Langston Hughes but, there is a photo of him in what seems to be an office some sort (e.g. see fig. 1).

left2134235(Fig. 1 Langston Hughes in an office, Bing Images)
4000020000(Fig. 1 Langston Hughes in an office, Bing Images)

During the Great Depression white Americans and Black Americans lost money and their jobs so, Hughes wrote about the poor and homeless Black Americans.

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During the rise of the Civil Rights struggle, his publications in the 1950s and 1960s spoke on the political upheaval and the conditions of African American Life. This affected the dreams African Americans had for equality. The only thing people had was their dreams, which lead Langston Hughes to write his poems on dreams. Dreams were one of his biggest projects that would relate to the people. “A Dream Deferred” represented the hardship that every American was going through. Black Americans and White Americans loved his poems. Hughes wrote a poem called “Harlem”. Utilizing poetic devices, Hughes is able to successfully display the emotional conflicts of the frustrations that African Americans faced regarding their goals and dreams during the 1950s. One of the most essential poetic devices Hughes uses in “Harlem” is the use of figurative language. Using figurative language, Hughes can evoke a genuine connection with the reader. Written during an era when social equality was more commonly spoken about, rather than acted upon. Hughes did an incredible job of creating visualizations of how African Americans felt about their goals, dreams, and self-esteem. Hughes strategically utilized this poetic device to portray how challenging, and nearly impossible, it was for African American’s to achieve ambitions and goals during an era of social inequality.

Hughes dedicated his poems to the struggles, pride, dreams, and racial injustices of African American people. Rampersad states that when Hughes first began to write, he "committed himself both to writing and to writing mainly about African-Americans" (Rampersad para. 1). Certainly, his choice in the study and writing methods suggested this. His first published poem was "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," Loyalty to his race and interest in the issue of abolition and African-American rights was in Hughes's blood, as his relatives had been at Harpers Ferry, had worked tirelessly to fight for abolition, and who had been famous and influential in the African-American communities across the nation (Rampersad para. 3). Despite his rich lineage, Hughes's reaction to racism was his own. And he did respond to the issues of racism and racial discrimination, using his poetry. This can be seen quite clearly through one of Hughes's first poems, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers." In this poem, it begins with the statement, "I've known rivers" (Hughes 1), and continues to list the rivers that he has known. First, he writes that he has known "human rivers," and the rivers that are even older than those, rivers such as the Euphrates, the Congo, the Nile, and the Mississippi (Hughes 1-8). While this might seem, at first, like a more natural topic than one about racism and conflict among the races, the rivers are all those having something to do with African-American culture. The first three rivers are in Africa and the Middle East, suggesting Hughes's roots. The Mississippi, however, is in the United States, suggesting both his present and his past in this country. The images of the rivers and the time imagery that he uses, saying that he has known "rivers as ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human rivers" (Hughes 1-3), show both the eternity and the harshness of Hughes's struggle, as well as the struggles of other African-Americans.

Many people strive to one day have these ideas become our reality. But what happens to us when those very dreams fail to take form when one’s desires and plans for achievement are halted before they reach fulfillment. When they experience temporary or even permanent deferment? When one loses our hope in their dreams it only brings one reluctant to dream again, unsettled with the outcome, and feeling defeated. Langston Hughes’s poem “Harlem” depicts a subtle but very vivid picture of the human reaction to unresolved dreams. The name of the poem itself is the biggest clue to its true meaning. It points to the historical part of New York called Harlem (Arthur pg. 2). Why title the poem Harlem if it doesn’t discuss Harlem at all? That is the point, it does describe Harlem. At the time the poem was written, Harlem was a place where African Americans were mocked and denied in society. The "dream" that Hughes was referring to could be any type of dream but given that he wrote this during the Harlem Renaissance, it probably refers to the dream of freedom, equality and dignity, and of a better life that many Southern Blacks carried with them to the North. America at the time was known as the land of opportunity, where dreams come true (Arthur pg. 6)

Hughes became interested in socialism. Hughes supported the Soviet’s ideologies of communism as there were no flaws of equality. The communistic economies presented struggle and poverty, but Hughes still believed in it since there was no racism or classes in society. Hughes took part in the communist party in the US, along with other Black figures. Seeing his dreams and of other Black artists become bleak, Hughes’ thoughts became pessimistic and were reflected in his poetry. In his poem “Life Is Fine”, Hughes writes his pessimistic thoughts,
“I took the elevator
Sixteen floors above the ground.
I thought about my baby
And though I would jump down” (Hughes 10-13).

In conclusion, in order to deal with cultural problems going on in the world, poetry is a key component to get to people’s hearts and inform them what’s going on with this world. Hughes brings a major change in the eyes of Americans, through his influential and powerful poetry. He witnesses the social injustice faced by African Americans, finds his admiration in jazz music, and suffers pessimistic thoughts and weakened hope through the 1930s. Langston Hughes reflects the ambiance in his poetry, as his themes change according to his feelings, thoughts, and setting. Hughes’ poetry emerges from an examination of social injustice, followed by jazz poetry, and then to his pessimistic views on life. Hughes's plans of bringing change are revealed in his poems and become his dreams. They are, however, shunned as he faces the Great Depression and the suffering it causes to his community. His dreams are deferred and his hopes of bringing change among his people diminish. He learns from his experience and relates it in his poem “Dreams”, as he writes, “Hold fast to dreams for if dreams die Life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.” (Hughes 1-2). Langston Hughes teaches his readers and admirers to fight their dreams and to not let them delay, as dreams become your success to life.

Work Cited

Arthur P. Davis. “The Harlem of Langston Hughes’ Poetry.” Phylon (1940-1956), no. 4, 1952.
Rampersad, Arnold. “The Life & Times of Langston Hughes. (Cover Story).” New Crisis (15591603), vol. 109, no. 1, Jan. 2002.
Sundquist, Eric J. “Who Was Langston Hughes?” Commentary, vol. 102, no. 6, Dec. 1996.
Hughes, Langston, et al. The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. New York, N.Y. : Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 2007.

Updated: Nov 01, 2022
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The Cultural Impact of Langston Hughes. (2020, Sep 03). Retrieved from

The Cultural Impact of Langston Hughes essay
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