Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
“The Negro Mother” is the title poem in the collection of poetry that Hughes wrote to reach the masses of black people. The twenty-page book and the poem were such an instant success that Hughes told his friend Carl Van Vechten that in Birmingham, Alabama, the book “sold like reefers on 131st Street.”
The voice in the poem is that of the black mothers through the ages. In the opening line, the narrator addresses her children. In the narrative that follows, “the Negro mother” depicts the capture and hardship of black slaves and speaks of the will to endure that kept them going. The voice of the Negro mother urges the children to transform the future so that they may live in dignity and freedom from white oppression.
The poem, often referred to as a heritage poem, is highly lyrical, employing both a regular rhyme scheme (couplets) and meter. It was Hughes’s intention, he said, that the poems be pleasant to recite and easy to remember. “The Negro Mother” and the success of the volume show how keenly in tune Hughes was with his audience.
Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Berry, Faith. Langston Hughes: Before and Beyond Harlem. New York: Wings Books, 1995.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Langston Hughes. New York: Chelsea House, 1989.
Chinitz, David. “Rejuvenation Through Joy: Langston Hughes, Primitivism, and Jazz.” American Literary History 9 (Spring, 1997): 60-78.
Cooper, Floyd. Coming Home: From the Life of Langston Hughes. New York: Philomel Books, 1994.
Harper, Donna Sullivan. Not So Simple: The “Simple” Stories by Langston Hughes. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1995.
Haskins, James. Always Movin’ On: The Life of Langston Hughes. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 1993.
Hokanson, Robert O’Brien. “Jazzing It Up: The Be-bop Modernism of Langston Hughes.” Mosaic 31 (December, 1998): 61-82.
Leach, Laurie F. Langston Hughes: A Biography. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2004.
Mullen, Edward J., ed. Critical Essays on Langston Hughes. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1986.
Ostrum, Hans A. A Langston Hughes Encyclopedia. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002.
Rampersad, Arnold. The Life of Langston Hughes. 2 vols. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Tracy, Steven C., ed. A Historical Guide to Langston Hughes. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.