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Harlem Renaissance Poets

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Each author’s role and importance within the Harlem Renaissance

The poets under survey are W. E. B Du Bois and Claude McKay. These are the authors who played various recognized roles within the Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance has been described as “the African-American boom of cultural expression that peaked in the 1920s” (Cyprus, 2012). It has also been argued that the Harlem Renaissance “was a literary and intellectual flowering that fostered a new black cultural identity in the 1920s and 1930s” (Rowen and Brunner, 2012). This brings two clear outstanding indications, which are cultural upholding and the use of literature. For a person to be considered as instrumental within the Harlem Renaissance therefore, that individual  must have been in a position to have used literature to champion the course of cultural promotion. Described as an author “who helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)”, W. E. B Du Bois can be said to have played his part in keeping the idea of Harlem Renaissance alive (Info Please, 2012). On his part, “McKay is best remembered for his poems treating racial themes” (Info Please, 2012). Therefore, these two authors used their profession in writing to stand against all forms of inhumane acts addressing the Black race in their days. Most importantly, their messages, which were given through their writings (poems), have lived on till today as they were used to champion anti-racism campaigns.     

Evidence of the “double-consciousness” being expressed by each author

The poem selected from W. E. B Du Bois’ collection is “My Country ’Tis of Thee”. The laude chosen from McKay’s selection is “America”. In Du Bois’ “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”, he shows clear evidence of double-consciousness by first announcing the presence of a dilemma in his country. It would be noted that Du Bois has been associated as the originator of the term “double-consciousness”. The term was used by Du Bois to depict double standard in the personality of a person as well as the divided identity of a person. Therefore the poem was fused with an element of an unspecified identity of the Black American who lived in the times of the Harlem Renaissance. Counting himself as one of such people who were forced to portray their love for a country, which they were to claim to be their own, though they knew they originated from elsewhere, Du Bois writes

My native country thee

Land of the slave set free,

Thy fame I love.    

On his part, McKay uses the poem “America” to depict double-consciousness from a perspective where he does not have a true identity of himself in America though he had been claimed to be an American. Therefore the poet laments of the inhumane treatment he experiences and wonders if he would be treated as such if he was a White American.  To this end he writes:

Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.

Yet as a rebel fronts a king in state,

I stand within her walls with not a shred

Primary themes in Poems

There are three distinguishing themes portrayed by the poets as they were related to their time. First, there is manifested the theme of cultural identity, where the poets depict the need for there to be a singly defined identity for the Blackman. As part of the identity, the Blackman is advocated to champion his own culture and make reference to his land of ancestral origin as his true origin rather than that of America, where he certainly has his own culture. Refusing to see America as his true origin therefore, Du Bois refers to America saying

“Late land of slavery”

There is also the theme of personal liberation. This means that the poets were strongly pushing for the defense of their fundamental human rights. This plea arose when it seemed late to claim their cultural identity. So if they could not be granted their cultural identity, at least they needed to be given their personal liberation from oppression and pain. McKay describes the extent of oppression by stating that

“And sinks into my throat her tiger's tooth”

The last theme involves the hope in God. Indeed, God has always been the last resort. When the fight for cultural liberation fails and the lament for personal liberation is denied, the most feasible avenue to resort to is God. The poets acknowledged God as a supreme being capable of answering their cry and granting their request. Du Bois therefore seeks God’s intervention by praying:

Our fathers’ God to thee  

Author of Liberty

Self made Poem

Where do I belong?

Hope do I have any?

I burn with emotions

Crying for my identity

My true identity in my land of birth

 

Will I ever be free?

Having what I want done?

Indeed they say a brother

A colleague they call me

But to me myself they say no

 

Where cometh my help?

Unto whom should I look?

I know my redeemer lives

God shall be my only hope

Unto you oh God; peace, joy strength I ask.

 

Above is a three stanza self constructed poem that depicts all three themes discussed earlier. These themes are cultural identity, personal liberation and hope in God. In the poem, a stanza is used to discuss each of the themes in a respective manner. 

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