Modernist Poetry "I, Too"

"I, too, sing America."

All About Hughes: The American poet, novelist and playwright, Langston Hughes, was born on February 1st, 1902 in Joplin, Missouri. Soon after his birth, Hughes's parents separated, causing his father, James Hughes, to move to Mexico. He was primarily raised by his grandmother. When she died, he moved around to many different places with his mother, Carrie Hughes, until they finally settled down in Cleveland, Ohio. This was the time when Langston started writing poetry. He graduated from high school in 1920. After graduating, he went down to Mexico to live with his father. Langston soon wrote "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" that was published in The Crisis magazine. He moved back to the United States and enrolled at Colombia University. During this period, he became involved in the Harlem Renaissance. However, he dropped out of college in 1922. After doing numerous different jobs, he published “The Weary Blues”. This poem won first place in the Opportunity magazine literary competition; he received a scholarship to attend Lincoln University. Due to publishing his first novel, Not Without Laughter, Hughes was convinced that he could make it as a writer. Hughes then began traveling the United States, Soviet Union, Japan, and Haiti to preform lectures. Due to complications of prostate cancer, Langston Hughes died on May 22, 1967.

Life Affected Poems: Langston Hughes's grew up in the time where African Americans didn't have any rights. His hope for America to become free has influenced the themes of his poems; they are primarily about racism and freedom. Also, Carl Sandburg, Walt Whitman, and Paul Dunbar were his primary influences in writing. In addition to that, his unhappy childhood influenced the way he wrote his poems. His parents separated when he was a baby and caused him to live with his grandmother. When she died he was forced to live with his mother.

The Modernist Poetry Time and the Harlem Renaissance: Langston Hughes lived through the Modernist Poetry time. This period lasted from 1914-1945. The Modernist time period took place during the time which many historic literary figures ushered in like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. The Modernist time period had many hard hitting times in it. Things such as both world wars, the roaring twenties, and the Great Depression all hit during this time period. The Harlem Renaissance took place during the Modernist time period; Langston Hughes was one of the big poets during this time. The Harlem Renaissance produced writing that expressed what was happening with African Americans and all about the modern urban life. This greatly influenced how he wrote his poetry. Langston Hughes focused greatly on the life of African Americans and the struggle that they went through.

Comparative Analysis: Langston Hughes speaks about the quality of life in both “I, Too” and “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”. In “I, Too” he speaks about the quality of life of an African American. Hughes shows the pain and separation he feels, “They send me to eat in the kitchen… When company comes,”. He also shows how he is readying himself to take a stand “But I laugh,... And eat well,... And grow strong.”. In “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” Hughes word choices show the beauty the narrator has seen in his lifetime. He uses phrases like “lulled me to sleep”, “ when dawns were young.”, “singing of the Mississippi”, and “muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset.”, to show the beauty of all the things he has seen. With all the beauty show through the narrator's words, we also get a glimpse of pain when he says “I’ve known rivers:...Ancient, dusky rivers.”. This glimpse into the narrator's pain is much like in “I, Too” when the narrator says “They’ll see how beautiful I am… And be ashamed—”. Langston Hughes speaks in both poems of the experiences the narrator has had in his life.

Common Themes: Racism is a common theme throughout Langston Hughes's poems. He refers a lot to how African Americans get the American Dream taken away from them because they are discriminated against. In his poem "Mother to Son," the mother is telling her son about all of the hardships she has faced because of her race. In addition to that, the American Dream is a common theme in Langston Hughes' poems. In his poem "Let American be America Again," he is asking to make everything great in America; he wanted it to be a place where everyone was happy and accepted. The American Dream theme was also shown in his poem "Dreams", which talks about how since the American Dream has died everything is halted and blacks cannot progress in anything.

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