PR: Langston Hughes’ Poetry

Through his use of imagery, diction, and structure, Langston Hughes is able to convey a tone of optimism and perseverance. Through his writings, Hughes empowers marginalized groups. Hughes’ primary method of empowerment is tone. Hughes uses tone to empower in two ways, both as a voice of optimism, and as a force of condemnation for oppressive institutions. Hughes’ work raises questions on the formation and reconstruction of oppressive institutions, as well as the dismantling of these systems.

An example of an optimistic tone is As I Grew Older, “My hands/My dark hands!/Break through the wall!/Find my dream!/Help me to shatter this darkness,”(ll. 24-28). The speaker has been confronted with a dark, towering, and seemingly unconquerable wall. Despite the obstacle’s intimidating shape and form, the speaker finds the strength to break through the wall in pursuit of their dream. The optimism displayed by the speaker allows him to break a barrier to his dream. The tone of optimism is further evoked by the line, “My dark hands”(l. 25). Through this, Hughes praises the African-American community for its cultural resilience, despite walls being raised around them. Hughes does this by emphasizing the color of the speaker’s skin, and thus empowering the speaker and the African-American community at large. Moreover, the tone of optimism is also conveyed by each of the quoted lines increasing in length. The final quoted line is the climax. The speaker’s feelings of optimism and empowerment increase with the line’s length. The longest quoted line, “Help me to shatter this darkness,”(l. 28), is the climax of the text. The emotional and linguistic climaxes compliment each other. Further, Hughes’ optimistic tone is evoked further by the diction of the poem. For example, “Help me to shatter this darkness,/To smash this night/To break this shadow”(ll. 28-30). Hughes’ diction places an emphasis on the dismantling or undoing of obstacles. Hughes uses words with connotations of violent and chaotic undoing. This conveys the tone of optimism. Optimism is evoked by the speaker’s action of violently dismantling an obstacle to their dream being realized. Further, words such as “smash” have the connotation of destruction. However, after destruction comes rebuilding. As a result, the breaking of a barrier calls for the reconstruction of institutions. By pleading with the African-American community to deconstruct its barriers, Hughes evokes an optimistic tone. Hughes conveys this tone by encouraging not only the knocking down of barriers, but also by pushing for the reconstruction of the institutions that are the root of racial obstacles.

As a result of growing polarization, diverse perspectives on global issues are few and far between. This gap between either side on the pressing issue of injustice has grown exponentially. Because of this, conducting a meaningful discourse on injustice has become nearly impossible. As a result, action on the matter has been lackluster. While people are suffering, those with the means to end suffering stand around and argue. The inability of those in power to end suffering stems from the lack of meaningful, productive discussion on the topic. Those in power are not the only ones vulnerable to lack of perspective. I, too, have been without insight into the true nature of the sufferings of many. Because of this, I have not been doing my part to alleviate the sufferings of my fellow man. However, as I read this collection of Hughes’ work, I have experienced a change of sorts. Hughes’ works have given me insight into other’s perspectives of human suffering. As a result, I have to do my part in dulling the effects of suffering. An example of me attempting to alleviate suffering is working with the Global Awareness Committee of the SLC. Further, we have recently taken on a project to raise money for those victimized by similar injustices depicted in Hughes’ poetry.

One thought on “PR: Langston Hughes’ Poetry”

  1. Insightful observations. I love how you addressed the tone of optimism and how it conveyed each quoted line increasing in length. All valid points. Keep up the good work!

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