What is the setting of "Harlem" by Langston Hughes?
It is vitally important to remember that this poem is set during the Great Depression of the 1930s, a time of unprecedented want and poverty, which of course imapcted those who were looked down upon by society--African Americans--the worst. It was a time when even the slightest of price rises could herald disaster for poor families trying to make ends meet and a time when being black usually involved a crushing lack of opportunity and poverty with little chance of gaining employment to earn money. The writers of the Harlem Renaissance reacted to the discrimination that they and their neighbours who lived in Harlem faced in their work, and this poem powerfully evokes the economic and emotional distress of African Americans living in Harlem, "On the edge of hell," facing the brute and harsh realities of discrimination and lack of opportunity. Note how the price rises are refered to:
Now when the man at the corner store
Says sugar's gone up another two cents,
And bread one,
And there's a new tax on cigarettes--
We remember the job we never had,
Never could get,
And can't have now
Because we're coloured.
Note the tone of anger and indignation that accompanies these lines as the speaker tries to express his pent up frustration and rage at the situation that he, and so many others like him, face.