Langston Hughes & Claude MckayCompare/contrast the conventions of form and language in Hughes’s and McKay’s poetry. Compare/contrast how these reflect Du Bois’s idea of...

Langston Hughes & Claude Mckay

Compare/contrast the conventions of form and language in Hughes’s and McKay’s poetry. Compare/contrast how these reflect Du Bois’s idea of “double-consciousness.”

Asked on by vgz1116

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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In the 1920s, the lives of African-Americans were strongly effected by racial prejudice emboldened by groups that advocated extreme points of view including enforced sterilization of minority ethnic groups. Langston Hughes wrote during this era. One poem he wrote in 1923 is "The Weary Blues." The first four lines

Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,
I heard a Negro play.
Down on Lenox Avenue the other night

conflate the identities of the narrator and the musician, in fact it is not till the third line that we have any idea there are two individuals represented. By doing this, Hughes associates the narrator with the feelings and experience of the musician. Thus, when in the last lines the narrator says,

"And I wish that I had died."
[...]
He slept like a rock or a man that's dead.

he is speaking of the musician and for himself. This can be taken one step further by recalling that when Langston Hughes wrote, he wrote of himself. Thus Hughes, the narrator, and the musician all share the same feelings and experience. This could very well be seen as Hughes' expression of Du Bois's double consciousness:

One ever feels his twoness,--an American, a Negro; two warring souls. (Du Bois)

On the one hand, Hughes is an educated American making a vital contribution and living a successful life: he is the narrator listening to the weary blues from afar, while, on the other hand, his identity is conflated with the singer of, the feeler of the weary blues. Thus Hughes has a double consciousness: at one and the same time he is a contributing respected American and an African-American man who possesses the weary blues "Coming from a black man's soul."

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I agree with #2. McKay felt that he had to follow or at least partially imitate the literary predecessors that came before him, which gives rise to his style of poetry, which can be viewed as conforming to the "greats" that came before him. Langston Hughes never felt this urge or compulsion to conform, and was happy to strike out and create his unique voice without the need to follow in the footsteps of those before him. Because of this, the concept of "double consciousness" seem more difficult to apply to Langston Hughes.

vangoghfan's profile pic

vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Of the two poets you mention, I think that Langston Hughes suffered less from "double consciousness" than McKay did.  Hughes seems to have struck a more authentically original and deliberately unconventional note, both in content and in style, and he seems to have been less concerned than McKay was with conforming to the traditions and expectations associated with mainstream British and American poetry. Ironically, if I recall correctly, Du Bois did not especially admire Hughes's poetry; I don't know how he felt about McKay's.

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