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Abstract

This paper covers the black American artist called Langston Hughes. He was an American novelist, columnist, poet, and playwright. He was among the earliest innovators of the new literary art form referred to as Jazz poetry. Hughes wrote a number of poems and books that brought out the struggle that the black community went through in the United States at the time. Some of his works include ‘The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain’, ‘Home’, and ‘The Blues I’m Playing’ (Ostrom, 2002). This paper, through close reading, discusses how ‘The Blues I am Playing’ relates to a passage from NARM. It also covers how the selection reflects Hughes’ views on the role of the black artist. Finally, it considers how Hughes creates characters and establishes tone to demonstrate his artistic and political beliefs. By this comparison, the paper depicts the life of Hughes as a Black artist and his critical work towards racism.

Essay

‘In the Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain’, Hughes writes that, an American Negro artist can escape the critics among his own group so as to amass a great field of unused material for his art. There is enough material to cover without going outside his race and still be Negro enough to be different from the rest. Moreover, there is more untapped literature when the black artist chooses to touch on the relations between Negroes and whites in the United States. This Negro artist can give his race an individuality, rhythm and warmth.

‘The Blues I’m playing’ story relates to the passage from NARM in that, it brings out the pride and talent in black American artists; that the blacks have a lot of untapped talent especially in arts. There is a lot to write regarding the racial issue between blacks and whites. ‘In the Blues I’m Playing’, the protagonist is a black lady who lives at odds with her patron. The piece of writing brings out the clash of interest between the arts. We see that the elderly white lady aims at imposing a separation of the black lady from her black culture, the jazz community and her boyfriend. She wants the black lady to move out of Harlem.

In this piece of art, Hughes asks whether an artist should be forced to write in a world devoid of everything else. Is there a possibility that both passionate and rough emotions can be considered as part and parcel of art, in addition to its success? It is important to note that, during the Harlem renaissance, the coming up of Jazz as an American art form clashed with classical music. On the other hand, jazz’s soul was attached to change and improvisation. This was the source of conflict, where blacks were repressed when it comes to art, instead of being left alone to explore their talent. While classical music had passion, it was contrary that the musician only played the composers notes to share emotion instead of being their own. When the black lady refused to look at classical music as a form of art, she represented an open minded youth. She believed that art was a creation specifically for her, which she aimed at making sure that people felt her emotions, contrary to classical music.

This piece of writing relates to NARM, where Hughes believes that the American Negro artist can be successful in bringing out their forms of art without going outside his race. In their own way, the American Negro artists have enough and sufficient material to furnish themselves with a lifetime of creativity. The elderly patron does not allow the black lady to explore her art that is within her community, which she loves. She was resentful towards the emotional and raw art characterized by the emerging and new jazz and blues.

Hughes was considered as a pioneer of the black literature (Steven, 2004). He used and devoted a large part of his life and career to bringing out the experiences, attitudes, and language of the black Americans. He brought out the sadornic depiction of racism in United States. His pieces of work were aimed at the common folk, those who had talent but no venue to air them. His art related to the delight and pride in the black community.

He believed that the role of the black artist was to bring out their own unique style, which does not blindly follow the white. The artist should also write according to their own terms.

Hughes believed that a great poet would have to be himself. One would not run away spiritually from his or her race so as to be a great artist. A true Negro artist in America would have to overcome this. If a Negro artist chooses to touch on the existing conflict between the whites and blacks in the United States, there will be a lot of subject matter and material to write about. Hughes saw that the way of a black artist, who was serious, being in jeopardy. They would have to endure a lot of hardships so as to come up with a form of racial art. The Negro artist would have to work under a huge misunderstanding and sharp criticism from his own folks and the whites.  

During his time, Hughes lived in fear and faced a lot of criticism and intimidation. He faced oppression and criticism due to his political stands and actions. He was a champion who stood for the black woman, the black worker and the black culture. The tines he used in his pieces of writings was what made the American forces of terror make him withdraw some of his poems that were radical and challenging. The terror that loomed large in his life is what made him create fictional codes and characters, which he could use in expressing his socialists ideas. He was subtle and secretive in his art life, and usually changed his expressions and art permanently.

In his pieces of works like in the Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain, Hughes uses a rebellious tone, which brings out the fact that he cannot tolerate the injustices of the whites against the blacks; it meant he was not in any way making useless jokes. He brings out how most blacks have been mistreated all over the world, from the United States to the Congo in Africa (Nichols, 1980).

He expresses the notion that, Negro artists are willing to shine with or without the help of the whites. Whether the white population likes it or not, the black community was not going to stop. In ‘The Negro and Artist and the Racial Mountain, he says, “We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual, dark skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesn’t matter. We know we are beautiful.”

Hughes believed that his talent, with the rest of the blacks’, was the beginning of engagement with the whole world. He believed that through his writings, words can be used to make people believe in themselves and act. He said, “Words must now be used to make people believe and do. Writers who have the power to use words in terms of belief and action are responsible to that power not to make people believe in the wrong things.” This is what he believed was the role of the black artist.     

Hughes was very distinct in the way he used his unique style, simplicity, and black culture. He used his own creativity to draw the recognition from the blacks as well as dominating the white cultures (Steven, 2004). He recognized that artists from the black community possessed an overwhelming reservoir of spiritual and physical strength.  In his art he brought out the feelings that were within his race. He seemed to know how they felt. That is how he stood out and came to be loved by many in his community. He had a voice and tone that was sure and reflected the way of the Negro community. He was honest and direct, while writing with ironic intelligence that could not be matched at the time. He was distinct in his own.

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