As I read each of these Langston Hughes poems I felt that they went along with our discussion about what it meant to be an African American during the 1920’s and throughout the Harlem Renaissance. Both of these poems show Langston Hughes’ perspective on this issue several decades later. I find it very sad that the position African Americans were in had not changed much in the years between when Cullen and Hughes’ poems were published.
“Harlem” is a brief poem about what happens when dreams are deferred. The first thing that came to my mind after reading this poem was a play I read in high school called “A Raisin in the Sun”. This play took its name from a line in “Harlem” and is about an African American family who struggles to meet their dreams. My prior knowledge of this play definitely helped me in reading and understanding this poem. One other thing I noticed about “Harlem” was the almost gruesome images Hughes creates. He compares dreams to rotting meat and festering sores, which is far from the “reach for the stars” point of view that most people have today. This imagery made me realize how wrong it was that African Americans, like the family in the play, were often unable to follow their dreams simply because of the color of their skin.
I felt Hughes’ “Theme for English B” was about the unity that should exist between people of all ethnicities. The speaker in the poem begins by discussing how the fact that he is black doesn’t mean he doesn’t enjoy the same things that people of other races enjoy. He goes on to discuss how the color he puts on his paper will be a part of the professor, and how he and the professor are part of each other. They are both American, and can learn from one another. This poem also made me think of Cullen’s “Heritage” and the sense of isolation that the speaker felt. While I did get a sense of isolation from the speaker in “Theme for English B” it didn’t feel as inescapable as in “Heritage”. The speaker seems more confident about his situation in this poem.