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Black Experience in American Culture

This is a paper that analyzes the black experience in American culture as presented by Hughes, Baldwin, Wright and Ellison. It has 20 sources in MLA format.

African-American authors have influenced American culture as they have come forward to present issues that the society would rather have forgotten. Authors such as Richard Wright Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes and James Baldwin have come under fire as they have written about the racial and biased experiences throughout their life [Capetti, 2001] and through their narratives they have forged a link between the past, the present (themselves) and their future (the unborn generation).

These literary works are an effort on their part to prove to their nations that regardless of the perceived realities their existence and lives have valuable. The slave past some of these authors have had created a void in their lives that at times left then feeling ashamed and wary of their life experiences. These works were then an effort to wipe out shame and abashment associated with a part of their life that they could not control. By presenting the true essence of their potentials as an industry, as folks with rich traditions and high values they made themselves a 'productive citizen.' Thus, it can be said that African-American culture has been dominated by the struggle from isolated individuals towards the creation of a self-confident social figure. [Okafur-Newsum, 1998].

African-American Authors

Langston Hughes

To comprehend Langston Hughes literary efforts a deep insight is required of the concept of nationalism. After 1880, the concept of nationalism was widespread and focused on the fact that people with the same race; common language, ethnicity etc. constituted a nation. Internationalism on the other hand lay forth the opposite of nationalism that is the unity of workers of different races, languages and ethnicity etc.

With this concept the Black Americans with leaders like Garvey in lead were able to develop the fact that they were equal to the American and the Indian-American; that they were, after all, the inhabitants of the same land and each in lieu of this belief suggested that each and every social aspect of their existence needed reanalyzing [Dawahare, 1998]. During the 1920's many poets and Black authors were affected by the nationalism that followed World War I. It must be noted that many authors embraced Black Nationalism in order to contest the racism deep rooted in the American society. They took this step to replace this racism by inculcating and restoring black culture providing the African-American a new platform to feel at home with.

According to Charles.J. Johnson [Dawahare, 1998] the poetry written by many black authors was more than mere experimentation, it was the acknowledgement of a race. That is not the usual meaning associated with black poetry but one which is free from all kinds of discrimination, one that honors the lives and struggle of the African-American community [Dawahare, 1998].

Poems like 'The Negro Speaks of Rivers', 'Our Land', 'Danse Africaine' and 'I, too', reflect Hughes exactly the way Johnson described [Louis and Gates, 1993]. He appears to have been reincarnated with the developed sense of self-affirmation, self-consciousness and confidence. In his 'The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain', Hughes talks about dominance of America White Culture (referred to as the Racial Mountain) over those who represented the 'race' [Hughes, 1940]. He decries the content with which middle class Black Americans have adhered to the American White culture defying their true identity. But he appreciates that the working class blacks can still purvey the artists with life, can present them with the tools to base their works on, in order to establish their own identity.

The expression (jazz, rock, and blues) and the lives themselves are substances for the artist who is ready to paint them with words. Hughes directs his peers to the aim of expressing without shame or guilt what they are and who they are. In the 1930's Hughes shifted from his aesthetic blues sense that was associated with political struggle and where he seemed to challenge contemporary artists and their struggle in terms of literary efforts to analyze their concept of politics and poetry [from Thurston, 1995]. He simply identified the fact the not only were politics and poetry are poles apart but also that he could not stick to his initial expression of nationalism he so fondly followed.

The effects of Depression dominated the shift of Hughes to the left. It was after all, useless to believe that the white man dictated his own fate when its working class was either unemployed or underemployed. [Hart 249]. This effect is visible in his 'the Blue Sea' [1926] in which he describes New York winters as uncomfortable, with so many people helpless and hapless in wake of the depression.

The publication of "Advertisement for the Waldorf-Astoria" (1931) was an attempt to express his agony over the depression that caused class inequality. The poorer kept getting poorer while the wealthy got wealthier. He has depicted the advertisement as one for the homeless and hapless and that Waldorf is a luxury hotel only for them. By 1932 Hughes was shifting from his nationalism beliefs as a Harlem Renaissance writer and towards a deep-rooted concept.

For him the concept of class inequality was more profound and important than race alone. In Scottsboro Limited (1932) he speaks of the Scottsboro incident in a verse-play. Here the dialogue is between anonymous black boys who converse stating that the elite white does not care for the poor be it the black or the white. He identified that the blacks had been specially categorized for discrimination in terms of economy and social aspects under capitalism. In Let America be America Again (1938) Hughes has exploited the failure of the American Dream that was deeply affected by the aftermath of the Depression, racism and the struggle against, the deviation of the white man from his roots to an undefined destination (American Dream). He states that the 'true democratic and egalitarian America has never existed due to class disparity'. Those who were discounted and misrepresented were the Native Americans, the Blacks and the working white man. [Anthony 1995; Eric, 1996].

Richard Wright

Fred Daniel is the character exploited in Richard Wright's 'The Man Who Lived Underground'. It is the transformation story of a simple house servant who seeps into the darkness of the criminal underworld and tries to discover liberty there. Although the story has been retold many times the difference here perhaps is the relation of the racist society 'aboveground'. The journey here is of a servant and an unaccepted artist in the class afflicted society. It can be analyzed that the novel signals more than simple racial issues. It also discovers and exploits the romantic tales of Ishmael and Ahab, Tom and Hick etc. that is a literary journey at one hand and liberation at the other.

Although the character could not continue as a leading one in literary spheres he did win Wright a special space as the author of short fiction with similarity to the of a poem. [Fabre, Richard Wright's 220]. The question of why the character did not win the dramatic accolade it deserved had to do with Wright being classified as a Southern writer and secondly with the changeable praise he has received from critics and as an extension of his life events, it is believed that Wright's 'The Man' was related to his encounter with French extremism. It was never taken in the context it was written, that is pertaining to racism and class disparity that the blacks had had to face.

The analysis offered of the character is focused on themes, style etc. that confuses the base line of racism. In his unpublished 'Memories of my Grandmother' he speaks of black Christianity. In the "Seventh Day Adventist Church," worship has taken a totally new meaning. The time phases of past and present have been incorporated well and there lies no future and the arrival of Christ any minute will burn out time. It was a psychological state that dominated the presence of the person (his grandmother) who was present physically but mentally was lost. There are memory flashes provoked in times of danger in the case of 'The Man.' And similarly in Memories of My Grandmother which relate to racism. [Baker 1980; Bloom 1987].

In Black Boy, Wright finally goes a step ahead hinting at the concepts of racism and depicts the boy on his own personal self. The emphasis is on ideas, concepts and intellect that originate in the life of a Southern black boy. The 'narrow world' the boy survives in is the basis of the novel. Wright has described his journey northwards here as an attempt to experiment whether his Southern beliefs and values would be able to survive there. Critics have criticized Richard Wright for not being true to Negro life and thus have negated the reactions presented here. On the other hand the refreshing…[continue]

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