Langston Hughes was born in Joplin Missouri in the year 1902. Langston Hughes, mother and father soon divorced when he was still a young child. His father Mr. Hughes moved to Mexico because he thought that a man of color had more opportunity living in Mexico than in the United States. His Mother moved them around very frequently, not to long after his father left Langston Hughes went to go live with his maternal grandmother Mary Sampson Patterson.
During a time in American History were African Americans had no rights or freedom of speech or even a right to vote, and growing up in many different cities and living with many relatives, Langston Hughes experienced poverty and hardships. Hughes, used poetry to speak to the people. Langston Hughes was a poet, fiction writer, playwright, journalist, biographer, historian, anthologist, translator and critic. He is looked at today as pioneer of African American literature and the Harlem renaissance era. Hughes dedicated his poems to the struggles, pride, dreams, and racial injustices of African American people.
The way that Langston Hughes was brought up influenced his writings in numerous ways. His mother wrote poems and did dramatic readings, and read papers at the Interstate Literary Society, which was founded by her father. When Langston was little his mother used to take him to see plays very frequently. “He was strongly influenced by the Civil Rights, Harlem Renaissance, Segregation, Jazz music, and his Grandmother. His grandmother told him stories of African American heroes such as Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth and W. E. B. Dubois”(Weaver par. ) When his Grandmother died Hughes said she left him with the greatest legacy of all: “ She sat, looking very much like an Indian…in her rocker and read the Bible, or held Me on her lap and told…stories about people who wanted to make the negroes free…Through my grandmother’s stories always life moved, moved heroically toward an end. Nobody ever cried…they worked, or schemed, or fought, but no crying. When my grandmother died, I didn’t cry either” (MacNicholas 317). Hughes had other influences other than just his grandmother. Mary Mcleaod Bethune also encouraged him.
She encouraged him to go on a poetry reading tour of the south in 1931 and in 1932. On the tour he met: E. C. L. Adams, Margaret Walker, Nicolas Guillen, Jacques Roumain, Arthur Koestler and Boris Pasternak. All of those people “stimulated a creative outpouring of poetry, short stories, essays and further propelled Hughes into the nation and international consciousness as a writer worth serious critical consideration” (MacNicholas 318). His verse was “influenced thematically by the social realism of Lindsay, Masters and Sandburg, and technically by the rhythms of jazz”(Hunter 147).
Langston Hughes was inspired by the rhythms of jazz music and was one of the first poets to incorporate his poetry to jazz music. Jazz music wasn’t the only influence that Langston Hughes had, he was influenced by the Civil rights, and how African American people in that time had to live their lives, the struggles of segregation and the Harlem Renaissance. He mostly writes about what is found in representative public expressions of Negroes… discrimination in education, employment and housing.
Langston Hughes is “praised for his use of folk material and his success in “catching the hurt” of black lives, the monotony of black jobs, and the “veiled weariness” of black songs”(MacNicholas 318). “Hughes poems and stories reveal the authors comprehension of Negro folk culture, his awareness of historical and individual forces at work in Southern life, and his implicit vision of a decisive moral encounter that will bring brotherhood to America” (Bone 87).
Hughes writing was so raw, and true, he had a way of capturing emotion, emotion that everyone could relate too weather they were African American or not. “Hughes lyrical hope for America fuses Natural color and Fragrance in objects and people, transformed by the “Kind Fingers” of creative love. Life, Love and joy blow a clean wind of optimism through much of Hughes poetry” (Bone 128). When Langston Hughes wrote, he had a tone of optimism. His poems seemed to have given hope and new light to many people. His poetry inspired others to make a difference.
Much of Hughes writing like his life was dedicated to improving the condition of American Negroes. “ Hughes shapes its substance to the cadences, accents, and ductile phrases familiar to most Negroes; and he weaves incident, personality, and racial history into recurrent patterns”(Hunter 176). One of the reasons why Langston Hughes had such great success was because he was equally sensitive to the dignity that African Americans endured as well as their endured or resisted oppression. His works aren’t always serious and raw, in some of his works he incorporates another talent that he has. With humor, one of his rare gifts, Hughes injects comfortable chuckles into much of his poetry and prose”(Emanuel 177). “ As impressive as Langston Hughes is for his versatility and productivity, his claim to enduring literacy importance rests chiefly on his poetry and his simple sketches”(Vinson 515). “ Perhaps the best known African-American poet. His work was Not limited to poetry; he also wrote plays, short stories, and novels. A literary giant of the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes wrote to explain and illuminate the Negro condition in America”(Robinson par. 1).
In one of Langston Hughes plays entitled Simply heavenly there is a speech in the first act in which Hughes had written in order to show the point of view of an African American struggling to get by. It shows the frustration of African Americans all over the United States. “ I’m broke, busted, and disgusted. And just spent mighty near my last nickel for a paper and there ain’t no news in it about colored folks. Unless we commit murder, robbery or rape, or are being chased by a mob, do we get on the front page, or hardly on the back”(Roberts 1438). “Hughes refused to create fantasy stories about life.
He wrote what he knew about and felt that was the way he had the most impact on readers”(Paul par. 9). “ Cross” is a lyric poem expressing in first person point of view the feelings of a person with a white father and a black mother. The title of the poem has several different meanings but they all have an underlying theme, which is the inner turmoil of the speaker. The turmoil that the speaker has is due to the fact that they (he/she) have a mixed racial heritage. Cross-, could mean anger, the speaker has been angry with his father and mother for making him more than one race.
After his anger is managed he forgives them. Burden, is another word that comes to mind, because the speaker “carries a cross” which would be his mixed racial heritage. Crossroad is another word that comes to mind because after forgiving his father and mother, the speaker is now at a crossroad. The road to the right is for white people, and the road to the left is for black people. But because the speaker is both he/she has to walk straight onto the road of uncertainty The poem has three four-line stanzas (quatrains). The first stanza has 28 syllables; the second, 30; and the third one has 30.
The first ten lines are sentences telling what the situation is; and the last two sums up the conflict and theme in the form of a question. The meter of the poem varies, but it is primarily written in iambic feet. The poem moves a long just like a song. Cross ? By Langston Hughes ? 1926 ? My old man’s a white old man ? And my old mother’s black. ?If ever I cursed my white old man ? I take my curses back. If ever I cursed my black old mother ? And wished she were in hell, ? I’m sorry for that evil wish ? And now I wish her well. My old man died in a fine big house. My ma died in a shack. ?I wonder where I’m gonna die, ? Being neither white nor black? ? (Hughes 52) The first stanza says, “My old man’s a white old man And my old mother’s black. If ever I cursed my white old man I take my curses back”. This means that obviously his father is white and his mother is black. In line 3 it says, “ If ever I cursed my white old man I take my curses back”. Langston Hughes is saying that if he ever got mad and said things to his Dad that he didn’t mean just because of his fathers skin color, he takes them back.
The second stanza of the poem is about the Mother, “ If ever I cursed my black old mother and wished she were in hell, I’m sorry for that Evil wish, and now I wish her well”. That means that he’s now apologizing for the things that he’s ever said, or might have said to his mother. He’s now realizing how bad he feels for blaming whatever he went through, or still does go through on his parents…in particular his Mother for being black. The third stanza says: “My old man died in a fine big house My ma died in a shack, I wonder where I’m gonna die, Being neither white nor black? Here he’s saying how when his father died he was able to die in the comfort of his nice house, because he was white. The whites got more privileges than the blacks. His Mom because she was black had to die in a shack…where most black people lived because they couldn’t afford to live in houses that white folks lived in. At the end in the last two sentences it says “ I wonder where I’m gonna die, Being neither white nor black? ” That means that he’s wondering if by the time he dies, he hopes things still aren’t the same…segregated.
He doesn’t want to have to chose white or black, he just wants to live life equally no matter what skin color. Because it didn’t matter to his parents, they had a life together. Why would skin color determine what kind of life a person lives, and dictate what happens to them when they die? During a time in American History were African Americans had no rights or freedom of speech or even a right to vote, and growing up in many different cities and living with many relatives, Langston Hughes experienced poverty and hardships.
Hughes, used poetry to speak to the people. Langston Hughes was able to use his hardships and struggles as a motivator to be one of the best poets in American history. He has made a name for himself, because of his style of writing, which is unlike anyone of the time. He is looked at today as pioneer of African American literature and the Harlem renaissance era. Hughes dedicated his poems to the struggles, pride, dreams, and racial injustices of African American people.