Langston Hughes was a major player in the Harlem Renaissance, an African American movement in the 1920s and 30s. He influenced other writers and raised awareness of African American culture and racial injustice. Langston Hughes impacted literature by using imagery, figurative language, and symbolism in his works.
Langston Hughes impacted literature with the use of imagery in his works. He used imagery to tell about the everyday lives of African American people in America. “Hughes was influenced by Carl Sandburg and Paul Laurence Dunbar” (George Hutchinson). Paul Laurence Dunbar was well-known for writing about African American indecencies and influenced Langston Hughes to incorporate similar themes into his own work. Hughes used imagery to tell about the everyday lives of African Americans in America, which included racism and cultural indecencies they faced.
Langston Hughes used both visual and auditory imagery in his works. Visual imagery can be described as words that create a picture in the reader’s mind. Hughes use of visual imagery was able to do this. For example, in his poem, “The Weary Blues,” Hughes wrote about the piano player using “his ebony hands on each ivory key...” (?????). This visual imagery puts an idea in the reader's head making it easy for them able to visualize what is happening. Hughes also used auditory imagery in “The Weary Blues.” He did this by generating ideas that represented sound so his readers could “hear” what was happening and relate to it. In this poem, Hughes writes, “in a deep song voice with a melancholy tone, I heard that negro sing, that old piano moan…” (?????). This auditory imagery made his readers feel like they were there listening to the piano player.
The use of imagery in Langston Hughes’ works influenced other authors and people, as well. Martin Luther King Jr. and Langston Hughes were friends, and in some of King’s speeches there is evidence that he was influenced by Hughes’ use of imagery. It was said that King got the idea to bring dreams into his speeches from reading the works of Hughes. “Hughes wrote ‘What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?...Or does it explode?’ and weeks later King gave a speech called “Shattered Dreams” that used some of the same imagery as Langston Hughes did in his poem” (The conversation?). Langston Hughes impacted literature with the use of imagery in his works, which influenced other authors and people.
Langston Hughes also impacted literature through his use of figurative language in his works. Hughes used metaphors, similes, and personification in his poems to help people understand the struggle that African American people faced in their everyday lives in America, and to create deeper meanings in his poetry. “Figurative language includes the several figures of speech and figurative devices. Through the use of these figures, the poet is able to present contrasts and comparisons of varying degrees of intensity and meaning” (Maple Louise Allen). Hughes does exactly what Allen refers to, using these to help describe African American life, and giving the reader the ability to understand it.
Langston Hughes also used metaphors, similes, and personification in his poem “The South.” Hughes wrote, “the lazy laughing South with blood on its mouth,” (?????). This is an example of personification. It is personification because it is giving the South, a non-living thing, the traits of a living thing, referring to the South as lazy, laughing, and having a mouth smeared with blood. His deeper meaning may be referring to what other people think of when they think of the South. Maybe that the white people of the South are sitting back on their porches in their rocking chairs, laughing and watching the slaves work. The bloody mouth could refer to the violence the South endured as a result of this time. In another line he says, “beautiful, like a woman, seductive as a dark-eyed whore…” (Maple Louise Allen?). Hughes uses this simile to compare the South’s dark, complex history to that of a sinful woman. Hughes uses many different kinds of figurative language in this poem and these are just a few examples. He uses figurative language to tell about how the South looked beautiful on the outside, but on the inside, life in the South for African Americans was a constant struggle. The South was not what it seemed to be or what it was said to be like.
Another way Hughes uses figurative language in his works is with onomatopoeia. Hughes uses onomatopoeia in his poem “The Weary Blues” when he says “Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor” (?????). This use of onomatopoeia contributes to the poem because it helps the reader really be able to feel what is happening with the ability to almost hear the thump of the piano player’s foot. In his use of figurative language Hughes compared and contrasted concepts to create a deeper meaning and to inspire feeling in his readers. His use of figurative language can be seen through personification, similes, metaphors, and onomatopoeia. Hughes’ use of this figurative language helped impact literature.
Langston Hughes impacted literature through the use of symbolism in his poems. In “I, Too, Sing America,” Hughes used symbolism to represent inequality and injustice in America when he writes “They send me to eat in the kitchen when company comes” (Jacques Manangama Duki). Here, Hughes is using the idea of in-home segregation to represent segregation on a larger scale, without coming out and actually saying it.
Symbolism is used to represent a deeper hidden meaning in poetry and Langston Hughes did just that. For example, in Hughes’ “‘The Negro Speaks of Rivers,’ Hughes talks of the Congo River in Africa. This is an image of home for many African Americans. It represents a place of peace and tranquility in their lives.” (Bartleby Writing). Another example of symbolism in that same poem is when, “Hughes writes about the Nile River and the Great Pyramids in Egypt. The pyramids can be viewed as a symbol of slavery to many people due to the slave labor that it took to create these grand structures” (Bartleby Writing). Both of these examples of Hughes’ use of symbolism in his works show how he used it to make a deeper hidden meanings that some people might not catch.
Langston Hughes used symbolism so that people would be able to figure out more in his writing. He knew people would be able to understand the majority of his poetry, but he also wanted to add things that were harder to see and meant more. He wanted people to dig deep into his poetry and find things that others would not. These hidden symbols help people see even farther into the life of an African American in America during his time. This use of symbolism by Langston Hughes helped impact literature.
With his use of imagery, figurative language and symbolism, Langston Hughes had a great impact on American Literature. By writing about the everyday experiences of African American people in America, Langston Hughes gave them a voice and created a cultural awareness. Hughes influenced themes in Martin Luther King Jr’s speeches and also impacted literature through his use of imagery, figurative language, and symbolism to convey his themes and ideas. His impact can still be seen today as other authors combine and use these elements in similar ways to convey different themes. Hughes’ influence was so great that his home in Harlem was declared a landmark and his street renamed “Langston Hughes Place.” Langston Hughes had an important impact on literature.
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