In studying Richard Wright and Langston Hughes' poetry, how does their tone argue that prose is more effective than poetry?
Both Langston Hughes and Richard Wright are both every effective writers. I believe they are both excellent in conveying images and feelings, and evoking strong emotional responses. In terms of poetry over prose, I don't know if one can contend that one form is more effective than the other, as both kinds reach the audience and share a message—albeit in different ways—whereby the reader is touched…perhaps even changed by the experience.
Wright's poetry is written like prose—in "free verse." In other words, there is no meter (rhythm). Many of his images are disturbingly compelling:
And then they had me, stripped me, battering my teeth
into my throat till I swallowed my own blood.
My voice was drowned in the roar of their voices, and my
Black wet body slipped and rolled in their hands as
They bound me to the sapling.
The effectiveness is unquestionable as the poet drives his point home to the reader, who may well be shocked and riveted by the profoundly sharp and vivid images, as seen the excerpt above, from Wright's poem, "Between the World and Me"—which takes the reader to an experience that he or she might never have witnessed, but who knows the the poem speaks the truth. In reading it, we become vicarious witnesses, horrified by the writer's visions and veracity. As the grandson of slaves, Wright's truth was very different than other writers.
In his poem, "I Have Seen Black Hands," it is clear that he draws the reader's attention to social inequities—in one section to the harmful and dangerous work they are given to do, in order to survive.
I am black and I have seen black hands, millions and millions of them...
And they were caught in the fast-moving belts of machines and snagged and smashed and crushed,
And they jerked up and down at the throbbing machines massing taller and taller the heaps of gold in the banks of the bosses...
Wright's tone is very different than Langston Hughes, for even though Hughes captures the inequities of his race, there is a more hopeful feeling to his work…he suffers from segregation, but has hopes of equality one day in the land he is proud of.
In Hughes' poem, "I, Too, Sing America" (also in free verse), Hughes writes of being sent to eat in the kitchen, "the darker brother," who is not allowed "out" when "company" comes. But he shows, too, that he lives his life as well as he can:
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
We can infer ("grow strong") that he is working toward a future goal, when he will be "good enough," and not separated from others because of his race:
I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"
Hughes dreams not only of a time when equality will exist between blacks and whites, but of a time when the laws and conscience won't force people to see blacks and whites as equals, but that the vision of segregationists will be unclouded, and they will see the beauty of "the darker brother," and be ashamed of how they have acted in the past…because he is just as much a part of America—he is an American son also.
They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed--
I, too, am America.
What separates each Wright and Hughes as poets and writers is the hope that is—or is not—present in the work.