The Poetic Theory of Langston Hughes

All poets are influenced to one level or another by their predecessors. The same is true for Langston Hughes. Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe and WEB Du Bois were few of the writers who had influenced Hughes writings. Hughes connected with the fact that these writers talked about humanity and a sense of freedom and justice. Hence, Hughes strived to incorporate these very ideals in his own works too.

As a poet who lived through the High Modernist period of literature, his poetry however was refreshingly simplistic and musical. Unlike many Modernist poets like T.S Eliot, Hughes poems were very easy to understand but had strong messages of social and racial equality in it. So, despite writing in the 1920s and 30s, his poems and works were simplistic and were comprehensible to the general masses. This plain and direct style of writing was a characteristic feature of American Literature since a long time and this no doubt influenced Hughes to write his own works too following a similar pattern. For instance, he was impressed by Whitman’s direct and democratic writing style and Mark Twain’s presentation of the African American experience in the Adventures of the Huckleberry Finn. He liked the fact that some of the older American writers presented the dialects used by lower classes and the African American populace in their works. He felt the same about Harriet Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin which was published in 1852 for its representation of the slavery and bondage system in America and how it affected the lives of African American people. He appreciated the moral implications that the novel presented. Hughes appreciated Stowe for being a writer who dared to place human morality at the centre of her art and tried to use literature for serving the broader interests of humanity. Similarly, Hughes was drawn to Du Bois because of his intellect, education, integrity, and commitment to a cause.

When one looks at the huge canon of work produced by Hughes, including his poems, it is clear to notice that these writers, their plain style, and contemporary themes influenced Hughes to a large extent. But even more than that, he drew from his first-hand experience of being an Afro-American living amongst prejudice and discrimination. This and his leaning towards leftist ideology helped in shaping his creative outlook. Also, his use of Afro- American folk music and culture together with his understanding of the importance of giving a voice to a group of people who have been silenced historically, is what makes his literary aesthetic stand out. While his poetry advocates for a more equal society, it never once speaks in favour of hate or violence against the white population. His works explores the African American component of the human experience. It is because this deep exploration of the human experience coupled with his way of dealing with the colonial experience is what makes him a prolific writer.

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