Does Langston Hughes express political or societal values?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

From the very beginning, Hughes was devoted to discussing through the medium of his art both the societal and political realities of Harlem and America as he experienced them. He recognized the possibility of being the poetic voice of his people and rejected easy paths to fame and wealth in order to pursue this goal. His final and posthumous work focused on societal issues that had political foundations. In The Panther and the Lash, he decried race relations in America at a time when some African Americans were dissatisfied with the goal of integration and some were taking and advocating violent retribution as a way of asserting trodden upon black rights, such as the Black Panthers.

In his first collection of poems, Hughes sang the song, in his own blues tune, of the societal problems of poverty and racially founded maltreatment that then existed in Harlem. (Later, he reneged on pro-socialist expressions in his works.) In his first collection, The Weary Blues, he spoke, as at the end of his life, of societal issues that were founded in political problems. For example, poverty might be fought through government programs that equalize education opportunities and success; racial conflict might be fought with government legislation prohibiting and punishing it (e.g., current legislation against racial profiling).

Throughout his career of exploring societal woes neglected by political action designed to protect and mitigate--whether explored in Russia, America, or Africa--Hughes turned the spotlight on the human side of the suffering caused by violence, poverty, and marginalization as experienced in black life in America. So, while you might say Hughes focused on societal issues, these issues all had foundations in political action that was needed but neglected.

mkcapen1 | Student

Langston Hughes is doing a little of both.  He is trying to get the public to be more aware of what life for a black person was like and to get people to think outside their safety zones.  He was also showing what it was like for him and contemplating the realities of his own experiences.  In his poetry he questions the fairness of life as it has been laid out.

Hughes did not want to see people's dreams die.  He wanted people to recognize that dreams lead people forward and that if they just let them go, they fall away like paper with nothing left.  He wanted society to see how dreams were being left and lost by African Americans; through no fault of their own.