In an era before the American Civil Rights Movement, what social and economic conditions might have contributed to the sense of weariness expressed by the musician in Langston Hughes' poem "The Weary Blues"?
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Langston Hughes’ poem “The Weary Blues,” which is set in an era before the Civil Rights Movement, implies a number of reasons for the weariness of the musician. Those reasons include the following:
- The musician is black during a period of great racial discrimination against African Americans. It is only natural, therefore, for him to feel weary of the prejudice he must face every day – prejudice which at that time seemed unlikely to change or diminish in any very fundamental way. In other words, the musician had grown up facing discrimination; he faced discrimination in his present existence; and he was likely to continue to face discrimination in the future. The same was true of most members of his family and most of his friends. Little wonder, then, that he feels weary almost to the point of desiring death:
“I ain’t happy no more
And I wish that I had died.” (29-30)
- The musician seems to be poor, or at least of modest means, during a time when social worth was often determined by the amount of money one possessed. Moreover, his apparent poverty is compounded by his identity as a black person. African Americans at this time were far less likely to move from the ranks of the poor to the ranks of the rich or upper middle class than were whites. The speaker may assume that his poverty is something he will have to bear all his life.
- The musician lives in a segregated neighborhood (Harlem) and is unlikely to be accepted or welcomed outside that neighborhood. His freedom to live and work where he wants is highly restricted and is likely to continue to be highly restricted – one more reason for him to feel weary.
- The musicians practices a kind of music – jazz – that was not afforded the kind of social respect or financial support afforded to other kinds of music at the time. Jazz was a kind of music that was initially associated with poor black people, and although its popularity soon spread, few black performers ever became enormously wealthy by playing jazz. This musician, in any case, does not seem to be playing before huge crowds in packed ballrooms; rather, he seems to play in a small club that can afford only and old, poor piano and a “rickety stool” (10, 12, 18).
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