Written By: Megan Thieneman, Adam Bedel, and Brooklyn Windell
Biography: Hughes was born James Mercer Langston Hughes on February 1, 1902 in Joplin, Missouri. After his parent’s divorced and he moved around the country, Hughes began writing poetry. He attended Columbia University for a year and held odd jobs, including assistant cook, launderer, and busboy. He also traveled to Africa and Europe as a seaman during this time. He finished his college education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. He died on May 22, 1967 from complications from prostate cancer.
Personal Life Influence: After Hughes’s parents were divorced, he was raised by his grandmother. It was then that he turned to poetry. He felt lonely due to his parental neglect, and turned to reading and writing to fill the void. He had also moved around the country and worked on a boat, so he had many experiences and thoughts as he grew up and became an adult. He was influenced by several poets, including Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Carl Sandburg, and Walt Whitman. Hughes also never differentiated between his own personal experiences and the experiences of other African Americans, which was unlike the other black poets of the time.
History: "I, Too" was written in 1926. This was seven years after World War Two ended. This meant the war had been long in the past. Americans were no longer as concerned about the war. They were free to focus on whatever matter their heart desired. Many African-Americans took this opportunity to start emphasizing the need and desire of desegregation and racial equality.
Modernism: Declared as a historical art figure in 1966, Hughes was not popular with everyone. The Black Power movement was gaining popularity. Young black militants began renouncing Hughes’ works.
Comparative Analysis: “I, Too” by Langston Hughes and “I Hear America Singing” by Walt Whitman both share the common theme of being united. In “I, Too,” Hughes describes African Americans becoming citizens and having rights like whites. In “I Hear America Singing,” Whitman describes perfect harmony between all types of people, like carpenters and boatmen. Whitman was one of Hughes’ poetic influences when he was younger. This is why Langston Hughes and Walt Whitman share common themes and structures in their poems.
The American Dream:
- Defines the American Dream as, “life should be richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.”
- Depicts glories of liberty and equality
- Depicts individuals trapped by prejudice, oppression, and poverty
- Realistic about discriminatory environment he lives in
- Expresses hope that racial inequality in America, will one day, start to be gone and equality will be present
- Alludes to forgotten aspirations
- Explores hidden dreams, lost dreams, dreams regained, and the dreams redeemed
- Believed inferior social status forced most African Americans to hide their dreams behind a protective psychological barrier
- Emphasizes that dreams must be kept alive to sustain the will to live
- Talks about how one day people will stop being separate and will be united together
- Talks about how people should persevere and never give up until the day when we are all united finally comes
“Langston Hughes.” Poets.org. Academy of American Poets, 1 August 2016. Web. 13 April 2017.
“Langston Hughes.” Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web. 13 April 2017.
Rampersad, Arnold. “Hughes’s Life and Career.” Hughes’s Life and Career -- by Arnold Rampersad. Oxford University Press, 1997. Web. 13 April 2017.
"Langston Hughes: Poems Themes." GradeSaver: Getting you the grade. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2017