It is known that the Harlem Renaissance gave an opportunity to a great number of African-American writers to express their creativity and identity in their literary works. During this period, African-American writers and poets created literary works which are still popular today. Although during the Harlem Renaissance, the blacks were still social inferior to the whites in spite of the established ideology of “separate but equal”, and the whites did not break their stereotypes concerning the status of the blacks, many African-American writers tried to make the whites change their relation to them. Moreover, they wanted the blacks to be more confident and to express themselves openly. (Brawley 52)
The works of two well-known writers of this period, Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes attracted attention of thousands of readers both the blacks and the whites, because they showed how double consciousness influenced the life and culture of African American, and how they dealt with racial injustice in the society.
My goal in this paper is to compare and contrast the way that Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes described the African-American experience in their literary works How It Feels to Be Colored Me and The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain.
ZORA NEALE HURSTON’S SHORT STORY HOW IT FEELS TO BE COLORED ME AND ITS MAIN POINTS
Zora Neale Hurston is considered to be one of the famous African-American writers whose literary works express her pride in her identity and uniqueness. She writes, “I am colored but I offer nothing in the way of extenuating circumstances except the fact that I am the only Negro in the United States whose grandfather on the mother’s side was not an Indian chief”. Zora Neale Hurston tries to show her personal attitude to the issue concerning racial inequalities. It is clear that she is proud of her origin. The author argues that each African-American should be proud of his or her skin color. She writes, “But I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all”. (Hurston)
One more example that demonstrates the author’s identity is her statement “At times, I have no race, I am me”.(Hurston) These words reflect the author’s concept of life. Hurston does not want to be governed by her race or her skin color, and she just wants to be herself. She is not ashamed of her position in the society because she is not afraid to be colored, she is special in this world and she knows it. The major idea of this literary work is to change personal attitude of African-Americans to their race and to their position in the society. In order to develop this idea, the author uses not only colorful diction and imagery, but also figurative language, colloquialisms and conversational type of tone. Zora Neale Hurston is against racial prejudices and tries to persuade others to feel the same. (Goode)
LANGSTON HUGHES’ ESSAY THE NEGRO ARTIST AND THE RACIAL MOUNTAIN AND ITS MAIN IDEAS
Langston Hughes, the author of the essay The Negro and the Racial Mountain, pays special attention to the role of the African American race of the 1920’s and tries to prove the significance of being an individual in human society, and to gain self-confidence. In his essay, Hughes tries to explain a young black poet who doesn’t want to be “a Negro poet” that he should be proud of his heritage. Hughes argues that it is a disgrace that the black man is ashamed of his skin color. Moreover, Hughes believes that the society of 1920s wants the black “to be as little Negro and as much American as possible”. The trouble is that the family members who belonged to middle class subconsciously made the young poet think that any white man can achieve more in life than any black man.(Goode)
Besides the above mentioned facts, Hughes tries to find the major reason of such state of mind of most African-Americans. He concludes that it is connected with immigration. Many Negro families, especially high class families were more Nordic. They forgot their culture and their traditions when they visited white churches, married the lightest black women. Hughes argues that his people have been brainwashed in thinking that Nordic culture is better. However, it is wrong. The author tries to persuade the readers that “Negro art” should play an important role in the life of all African-Americans. He writes, “I am ashamed, too, for the colored artist who runs from the painting of Negro faces to the painting of sunsets after the manner of the academicians because he fears the strange unwhiteness of his own features. An artist must be free to choose what he does, certainly, but he must also never be afraid to do what he must choose.” (Hughes)
The major idea of Hughes in his essay is to put his people on the top of the mountain that is difficult to reach and to make them feel self-confidence, freedom and individuality.
SOME COMMON FEATURES OF THE TWO WORKS
Taking into consideration the main points of the above mentioned literary works, it is necessary to say that both of them are closely connected with the Harlem Renaissance. Both authors pay special attention to identity, self-esteem and self-confidence of African-Americans. Moreover, both Hughes and Hurston try to change state of mind of colored Americans who are ashamed of their heritage, their traditions and culture. They want the blacks to be proud of their heritage. To be colored means to be proud of one’s identity and uniqueness, to respect the African-American traditions and culture, but not to follow the traditions of other cultures. To be colored is a positive experience, because it gives an opportunity to be different and to feel freedom. Of course, the experience can be changed depending on the social or historical context, but self-confident people will never change their points of view and their principles of life. The only difference between the authors’ works is that Hughes refers to the Negro poets and artists who do not want to recognize their heritage, while Hurston calls to all African-Americans. (Brawley 61)
In conclusion, it is necessary to say that both literary works discussed in this paper have the major goal – to change personal attitude of the colored Americans to their position in the society and to stand on the top of the mountain where they will feel free. They show another approach to racial prejudices in human society. As the true representatives of the Harlem Renaissance, the famous cultural movement of 1920-1930s, Both Hughes and Hurston contributed greatly to the development of the African-American culture.
Brawley, B. THE NEGRO GENIUS A NEW APPRAISAL OF THE ACHIEVEMENT OF THE AMERICAN NEGRO IN LITERATURE AND THE FINE ARTS. Biblio and Tannen Publishers. New York. 1986.
Goode, S. Return to the Renaissance. Insight on the News. Volume: 14. Issue: 17. 1998. Available from:http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5001339142
Hughes, L. The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain (1926). Modern American Poetry. Available from:<http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/g_l/hughes/mountain.htm>
Hurston, Z.N. How it Feels to be Colored Me(1928). About.com. Available from:<http://grammar.about.com/od/60essays/a/theireyesessay.htm>