Because Hughes describes I Wonder as I Wander as “the story of a Negro who wanted to make his living from poems and stories,” the form of the autobiography—vignettes—is ideal. The book is the work of a talented writer whose descriptions are vivid and whose narrative is lively. Yet Hughes’s autobiography is also a book about human rights—for the economically and politically oppressed, for racial minorities, for women, and for children. Among Hughes’s vignettes of oppression are stories of barefoot people of Haiti, of religious groups in the Soviet Union, of imprisoned artists in Japan, and of a leper in Mexico. His chapters exploring racism include accounts of the discrimination that he experienced as an African American, of Chinese and Japanese discrimination against Koreans, and of Spanish discrimination against the Moors. In several vignettes, Hughes examines violations of women’s rights, such as the buying and selling of wives, the exploitation of women through prostitution, and the condescending treatment of women in Spain. One of Hughes’s most moving vignettes tells of the disillusionment of a pregnant woman from Pittsburgh who flees to the Soviet Union because she believes that illegitimate children are not stigmatized there. Ultimately, she returns home to have her child. Regarding children’s rights, Hughes recounts his visit to Shanghai factories in which children spend their youths—often as long as ten years—as indentured workers. Because of the appalling working conditions, many children die without ever returning home.
These human rights issues are, in themselves, sufficient reason for young people to read Hughes’s autobiography. Through Hughes’s book, teenagers can better understand human values and the need to take risks in order to protect certain rights. Hughes weaves such themes—both stated and implied—throughout the vignettes. For example, following the story of the young woman from Pittsburgh, he explores the importance of ideals and expresses the pain of disillusionment when ideals cannot be met. He writes that “glimpsing the ideal in naked reality may be much like seeing your favorite movie star in broad daylight without make-up.”
In addition to human rights issues, however, Hughes also includes lively accounts of cultural customs. He speaks of drinking tea from communal cups, of eating camel sausage and snails, and of observing...
(The entire section is 599 words.)