Whitman was known for playing many different roles or writing through the eyes of many different people and character. He even took the perspective of the observer of all things. After reading Langston Hughes and hearing the class discussion on 9/20, I began to establish some similarities and differences in the two poets. Langston Hughes didn’t completely define himself as a “white” man or a “black” man, but he did wish to identify himself as both a poet and an American, but not necessarily a “negro poet”. Whitman in a similar way, wrote from the standpoint of many different people in various situations (the slave, the slaveholder, the man, the woman). He didn’t solely identify himself as a gay white man, and therefore didn’t solely represent himself that way in his poetry. In our discussion, many people didn’t believe that Langston Hughes should be considered the voice of the black race because he didn’t experience much of the black oppression that he wrote about during the harlem renaissance. I believe it is up to the reader to make such decisions, but he clearly shows a deep connection to his ancestors that suffered for his freedom. Real life experience can certainly affect the tone of poetry. Whitman was inspired to start writing again by staring the horror of war face to face in the D.C hospital for the soldiers injured in the Civil War. The smells, the sights, and the screams in the middle of the night were all things that Whitman experienced and was compelled to document in “Drum Taps”. Whitman identified with these young men although he was not necessarily living the lives that they were living as soldiers. I believe Langston Hughes felt the same bond with the oppressed black man although in reality, he didn’t live a life of such oppression. Both Hughes and Whitman wished to avoid the categorical, racial, divided views of society, and only wanted to be viewed as “American”.

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  1. AVZ says:

    I think you over-emphasized the degree to which Hughes didn’t feel the oppression of his time. He grew up in near-poverty in the care of a single parent. He had the luxury of going abroad, but only as a worker (not a tourist). He escaped some of the oppression at times, but he also worked many menial jobs in the 20s: laundry, restaurants, etc.

    Also, in the passages I read from the “Racial Mountain” essay, Hughes specifically declares how crucial black identity is to him, and how crucial it is to claim that identity. You might want to read the essay (you can google it): “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain.” Hughes felt solidarity amongst all oppressed people, but he did feel that his African American identity was crucial–and a crucial key to understand oppression more generally.

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