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This is an excellent question, since it suggests (correctly) that changing even one word in a work can significantly alter the impact of that work. Langston Hughes’ decision to give his poem the title “The Weary Blues” (rather than something else, such as “Harlem Blues” or “Piano Blues”) was a good decision for a number of reasons, including the following:
- The present title appeals to a broad range of readers. Everyone can relate to feeling weary. Not everyone, however, lives in Harlem or plays the piano. The present title, then, gives the poem a more universal appeal.
- If the poem had been titled “Harlem Blues,” the poem might seem to be addressed simply to African Americans rather than to a wider range of readers. Although Hughes obviously wanted to represent African-American experiences in poetry, it made sense for him to appeal to readers outside the African-American community. It made personal, financial sense for him to do so, but (more important) it also made sense for him to do so if he wanted to help his community to make real social progress. He needed to interest others in the plight of his community.
- If the poem had been titled “Harlem Blues,” it might seem to be a more political, more propagandistic poem than it presently is. With the title “Harlem Blues,” the poem might seem to be suggesting that the weariness of the piano player is due mainly to the fact that he is an African American living in a segregated neighborhood. With its present title, the musician seems a richer, more complicated character who has problems besides those caused by his racial identity.
- The present title is highly appropriate to particular lines of the work, especially lines 1, 6-7, 17, and especially lines 33-35:
The singer stopped playing and went to bed
While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.
He slept like a rock or a man that's dead.
- The poem, as presently written, makes it clear enough that the piano player is a black man (3, 15, 18, etc.) and that he performs in Harlem (4). There was thus no need to emphasize these facts in the title and thereby risk narrowing the range of the poem’s appeal.
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