The Harlem Renaissance

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TheHarlem Renaissance


TheHarlem Renaissance signifies the social, cultural, and artisticflare-up that ensued in Harlem in the period between the conclusionof the First World War and the mid-1930s (Public BroadcastingService, 2016). Black artists, musicians, poets, photographers,writers, and scholars gathered in Harlem. The majority of theseindividuals came from the South, where an oppressive caste system waspredominant. One of the highly acclaimed writers of this period wasLangston Hughes. Hughes` writings condemned the influences of whitepoets. The rhythmic patterns of blues and jazz were characteristic ofhis poems. Claude McKay`s literature also became popular during thisperiod. He inspired the African-Americans to remain steadfast infighting for their rights. The compositions Dreamsand Americabring the roles of Hughes and McKay, in the Harlem Renaissance, tothe fore.

LangstonHughes was among the most prominent writers during the HarlemRenaissance (Americas Library, 2016). His writings were inspired bylife in New York City’s Harlem region. Harlem was, predominantly,an African-American neighborhood. Hughes’ resilient sense of pridein the black race was evident in his writings. He condemned injusticeand racism and celebrated the existence of the African-Americanculture. He also fashioned American politics and literature throughhis literary works.

ClaudeMcKay’s country of origin was different from that of hiscounterparts he was a Jamaican (, 2016). Nonetheless,his impact on the Harlem Renaissance is indispensable. McKay`swritings about America painted an image of love, hate, pain, andpleasure. He provided a voice to the black immigrants, and since hewas among the pioneer writers during the Harlem Renaissance, he pavedthe way for other poets to express the concerns of society. Hissuccessors brought the issues facing African-Americans, such asracism, to the fore.

LangstonHughes, in his poem, Dreams,emphasizes the value of dreaming (Hughes,1967). He stresses the importance of striving to bring one`s ideas tofruition (Line 1). However, he also asserts that leading an existencethat does not match one’s expectations can be frustrating (Line 3).Double consciousness comes to view where the author creates an imagethat, seemingly, weighs the value of hope against desperation. Hughesstates that believing in one’s dreams is the key to bringing hisdesires to reality (Line 5), but he also contends that giving up onone’s wishes leads to feelings of emptiness (Line 7 – 8).

ClaudeMcKay, in America,brings the dark side of the American society into perspective(McKay,1948). The poemisa love sonnet to the United States however, McKay manages to bringout the darker side of America amidst his praises. He brings to bearthe predicament that the blacks face: they struggle with identifyingwhether to be African or American. McKay contends that America feedshim bitterness, but he loves the cultured hell that tests his youth(Line 1 – 4). Double consciousness is revealed in McKay’s words.Throughout the poem, he shows his anger, but he proceeds to clarifythat he is glad to be in America.

Hughes’and McKay’s poems reveal two themes: optimism and desperation.Hughes states that a person`s desire can come true if he remainsresilient (Line 1 and 5). However, he also reveals that desperationsets in after one stops working toward bringing his dream to life(Line 2 – 4). In McKay`s poem, the American Society appears dark(Line 1 – 3), but the abundance of its treasures and wonderssugarcoat the desperation within society (Line 4 – 7). The twoauthors discuss the plight of the blacks in a land where freedom hasbeen given to the masses. However, society remains relativelyunchanged. In essence, the blacks have to struggle to get what theywant. Hughes says, “Hold…to dreams, …when dreams go…Life is…abarren field” (Line 5 – 8). McKay’s writings reflect a similarthought. He says, “she feeds me…bitterness, …sinks…into mythroat, …stealing my breath, I love…cultured hell.”


Sheoffers me food,

Butmakes me plead,

Toget my belly full,

Shetells me that I am free,

Butchains me from flying,

Ihate the trickery,

Butcannot leave,

Becauseher treasures brighten my gloom,

Andher freedom gives me hue.

Ina recap of the above discussion, the Harlem Renaissance portrays thesocial, artistic, and cultural excitement that took place in Harlembetween the end of the First World War and the mid-1930s. Blackperformers, musicians, poets, photographers, writers, and scholarsmoved to Harlem. The majority of these persons traveled from theSouth, where a despotic class system was predominant. Langston Hugheswas among the most prolific writers of the Harlem Renaissance.Hughes’ writings doomed the influences of white poets. ClaudeMcKay, on the other hand, motivated African-Americans to remaindedicated to fighting for their rights, in his verses. The locus ofLangston Hughes’ poem, Dreams,and Claude McKay’s poem, America,highlights the roles of these authors in the Harlem Renaissance.Various elements and themes also emerge distinctly.


AmericasLibrary. (2016).&nbspLangstonHughes.& 23 August 2016, from Biography.& 23 August 2016, from

Hughes,L. (1967).&nbspDreamsPoem by Langston Hughes – Poem Hunter.& 23 August 2016, from

McKay,C. (1948).&nbspAmericaPoem by Claude McKay – Poem Hunter.& 23 August 2016, from

PublicBroadcasting Service. (2016).&nbspTheRise and Fall of Jim Crow. Jim Crow Stories. The HarlemRenaissance|PBS.& 23 August 2016, from

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