Compare and contrast the moods in Langston Hughes' poems "The Weary Blues" and "Puzzled."

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Langston Hughes was an African-American poet who played an important role in the Harlem Renaissance. Much of Hughes' poetry is about the difficulties faced by African-Americans in that time period (1920's-1930's).

Although the Civil War had been over for 60 years at that point, African-Americans were challenged by many more obstacles than they are today. With the high point of the Civil Rights Movement was still 30-40 years away, true equality, at least in the legal sense, was still a long way off.

“Weary Blues” and “Puzzled” both examine the nature of African-American life in the first half of the twentieth century. To compare and contrast the mood of these works, we must first make sure we understand what is meant by a literary “mood.” The mood of a poem is the feeling it evokes in the reader. In other words, after reading a poem, how do you feel? The answer to that question should give you the poem's mood. However, this only works if you actually take the poet's words to heart and make a real effort to understand, or "experience" the poem. 

Although the two poems have related subject matter, they evoke different moods. Hughes treats the subject differently in each poem through his use of diction (among other things).

The mood in “The Weary Blues” could best be described as melancholy, which means a feeling of sadness. (Don't be too concerned with the fact that the word “melancholy” is actually in the poem itself, this is not a mood requirement.) This mood is probably best described by the words of the singer himself, near the end of the poem:

I got the Weary Blues

And I can't be satisfied.

Got the Weary Blues

And can't be satisfied--

I ain't happy no mo'

And I wish that I had died.

We see that Hughes' character, the blues singer, is unhappy, although we don't know exactly why.
A look at Hughes' diction (word choice) in the poem gives us an idea of what might be hurting
the singer: ebony hands, ivory key, black man's soul, negro. Hughes doesn't come right out and
say that the singer's unhappiness is caused by something racial, but he emphasizes the man's
blackness so much that it can't help but seem that way to the reader. “Puzzled” is different. The opening stanza sets the mood right away:

Here on the edge of hell

Stands Harlem-

Remembering the old lies,

The old kicks in the back,

The old, Be patient.

The mood here is definitely stronger than the mood in “The Weary Blues.” The speaker is angry because things haven't changed for the people of Harlem, despite promises made in the past. In fact, you could use “angry” as the tone (tone is the writer's attitude toward the subject). If the poem makes you worry a little about what the result of the speaker's anger might be, you could use the word “apprehensive” to describe the mood.

Although both of these poems are inspired by the plight of the black man in the early twentieth century, their moods are different because the poems' speakers are reacting differently to their situations.

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