Harlem Renaissance Poets

Choose Two Poems by Different Authors from the Harlem Renaissance. Use Langston Hughes and Paul Laurence Dunbar

Describe each Author’s Role and Importance within the Harlem Renaissance

Paul Laurence Dunbar was born in 1872. He was one of the first African-Americans who gained national reputation due to his poetic and other literature works (Andrews, Foster & Harris, 2001). He was not well-educated and his parents, who were emancipated slaves, had separated when he was young. He quit college due to financial problems an operated an elevator, where he sold his books to his clients at a dollar in order to get enough money to publish them. His works comprised of both major and minor poems. Though major poems were more popular at the time, his national recognition was brought about by his minor poems. He died in 1906 and did not live up to the Renaissance period. However, his national recognition and poetic applause was enough to inspire other younger people who would later light up the Harlem Renaissance (Andrews, Foster & Harris, 2001). Among these people was Langston Hughes. Therefore, it is important to note that the Renaissance took the footsteps of people like Paul for the African-Americans to believe that they could make a difference in art and literature (Richard & Bailey, 1997).

Langston Hughes was born in 1902 and his parents separated when he was young (Tracy, 1998). He was brought up by his grandmother by the age of thirteen when he rejoined his mother in Cleveland. He started writing poems in Ohio and later did odd jobs to earn a living. Hughes was an important figure on the Harlem Renaissance that took charge in New York in the 1920s and 1930s. Since he was a renowned figure in poetry, he was among the well-known artists who spread the movement through his work. He travelled to Africa and Asia, and worked as a seaman (Tracy, 1998). His first poetry book, The Weary Blues, was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1926 (Richard & Bailey, 1997). He graduated from college in 1929. His book was followed by others which depicted the tribulations that the African-Americans went through. He was able to light up the fire in the African-Americans and was treated as a hero of the time. He wrote books and plays; moreover, he made a significant contribution to the development of jazz music (Tracy, 1998). All these factors helped to improve the intensity of black culture among the Negroes in Harlem.

Identify the Elements in each of Their Poems in which You See Evidence of the “Double Consciousness” Being Expressed by each Author.

Double consciousness refers to a situation where a person can be described in several facets. Most of the freed slaves’ children knew that their parents had been slaves, but they were not slaves themselves (George, 1997). They had known oppression and how unpopular their race was in America. At the same time, there were other Africans who were freed to America in pursuit of better lives. Those African-Americans born in America had double consciousness since they had lived through the slavery as well as freedom. Langston Hughes’ poem, Let America be America Again, is a good indicator of the condition (Tracy, 1998). The poem shows the author’s bitter thoughts on slavery. In the poem, the persona always felt that he did not belong to America, despite the greatness of the land and the fact that he had lived there all his life. He had been oppressed, bartered and he lived a miserable life on a rich and great land, America. Paul Laurence Dunbar also shows double consciousness in his poem We Wear the Mask. He uses the mask to show the lives of the African-Americans in the United States. Though the lives of the emancipated slaves seem to be good and admirable, they actually languish in segregation, discrimination, and inequality.

Describe the Primary Themes You See in the Poetry Written During this Time Period, Referring to Specific Lines in each of the Poems

Oppression is an important theme displayed in the two poems, We Wear the Mask by Paul Dunbar and Let America be America Again by Langston Hughes. In the third line of We Wear the Mask, the persona laments of the pain he goes through to pay a certain undeserved debt (“This debt we pay to human guile”).At the same time,the persona is crying to Christ “To thee from tortured souls arise” (Line 11). The persona and other people like him have been oppressed and denied the lives they desired to have. The other poem also explains in details the extent of oppression that immigrants into the United States had faced since their arrival. Lines 18-22 are very bitter and they show how much people were suffering in America. It is also evident in lines 31-35.

Another theme is deceit. In We wear he Mask, line 3, the characters is not happy at the debts they pay to someone else (“This debt we pay to human guile”). It means that they were paying the debt that they were not supposed to pay, but they had been tricked to accept the deal and they had no choice but pay it regardless. In lines 54-61, of Let America be America Again, the characters are bitter about how much they had been deceived and their pays not been paid by those who claim to be free.

Write Your Own Poem that Expresses these Identified Themes of the Harlem Renaissance


They said it was the end:

Of work without pay; of unappreciated effort,

Unfulfilled promises; no more guile,

But here I cry, papa cried, grandpa wept

Their sweet and foul mouths,

But lazy to let me in, to take MY FAIR share. Will they ever keep it?

The promise?

Order now

Related essays