Langston Hughes has been termed a "visionary" for his poetry about the African- American people. What evidence do you see of this in works such as "Jazzonia," "Cross," and "Harlem?"

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hughes as a visionary can be argued on many different fronts.  His writings are visionary in terms of articulating a reality for African- Americans that embraced both the condition of what is and a condition of what can be.  In such transformational and honest depictions, Hughes can be seen as a visionary.  Consider how Hughes depicts reality of someone biracial in "Cross."  Hughes is visionary because he gives voice to that which was previously silent.  Certainly, White Americans were able to assert their voice.  African- Americans struggled, but as a group, were able to find some level of collective identity.  Yet, for those who were biracial, the liminality of being, was a challenge.  The condition of walking from straits that represented a "cross" was painful and here is where Hughes is visionary.  He gives voice to those who live "being neither white nor black."  He is able to articulate a vision of reality for those who struggle with a foot in both worlds, recognizing that their reality is composed from a "cross" of the worlds of their "White old man" and their "Black old mother"   In giving voice to a condition previously silent, Hughes can be seen as visionary.

The Harlem Renaissance featured much in way of reveling in music and the social emphasis on jazz and the nightlife was featured prominently in artists' work.  In "Jazzonia," Hughes is visionary because he is able to take this condition of the "Harlem cabaret" and place it into a larger context.  In the Biblical allusions of Eve and the Garden of Eden and Cleopatra and regal Egypt, Hughes is able to demonstrate references that make the jazz night life of Harlem part of a larger narrative.  Whereas many did not understand the profound impact of these centers for African- American music and culture, Hughes was visionary in understanding that such centers are a part of something larger and more expansive.  In illuminating this condition, Hughes is visionary in able to transform what is into what can be.

The denial of dreams and the deferral of voice was a condition that Hughes understood as present in the lives of many African- Americans.  In his poem, "Harlem," Hughes' visionary condition is evident in how he is able to construct what happens to this denial of voice.  Eseentially, Hughes explores the conditions of being where voice is repeatedly denied.  He is visionary in his usage of imagery and employment of mental pictures to help convey this.  The greatest example of this vision is in the last line.  For Hughes, the last line is a statement to both White society and Black society.  To the African- American social order who experienced the denial of voice with almost shocking regularity, Hughes is suggesting that there will come a point where contemplating what it means to "explode" is a legitimate point.  To White society, Hughes is making it clear that there is a price to be paid for the constant denial of voice and such a price tag might be freightning to witness. In this, one can see how Hughes is visionary in being able to demonstrate what can be from what is.