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Published: 30-11-2019

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The Voices of the Voiceless: Comparing the Poetry of Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen

As two important figureheads in what is now deemed the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen served as voices for a previously voiceless population. Their poetry speaks of the enduring struggles of being an African American, and the work essential to merely survive in such a discriminatory society. Even so, in spite of becoming poets with related senses of objective, their employed methods differed significantly Hughes and Cullen strategy the field of poetry at two vastly distinct vantage points. While Hughes and Cullen differ in selections of speaker and audience, their core concepts of struggle, a faulty society, and a sensible, complex narrator stay mutual.

As blacks in 1920s America, Hughes and Cullen were victims of widespread (and, at the time, socially acceptable) discrimination. These situations provided the principal themes for considerably of their poetry, inspiring them to write on the daily battles of life as a second class citizen. The theme of rising above struggle can be discovered in both author’s works. In Langston Hughes’s poem “Mother to Son”, the narrator explains to her son that while the stairs could be unstable and dark, he must continue ascending and comply with her. Symbolically, the narrator is telling her son that even though life for them is filled with setbacks, they have to continue to persevere on. A comparable theme of finding strength and perseverance is apparent in Cullen’s poem “Incident.” In this text, the narrator recalls a time when he was named a “Nigger” whilst in Baltimore. Even so, just before receiving this insult, the narrator describes himself as “heart-filled, head-filled with glee” (2). Like Hughes’s narrator that keeps climbing up, the narrator in “Incident” finds light-hearted happiness in spite of living in a world of discrimination. We again discover this positivity in Cullen’s “Yet Do I Marvel.” Even though the narrator describes the frustrating struggle of a “never-ending stair” (symbolism reminiscent of the stairs found in Hughes’s “Mother to Son”), he nonetheless expresses a jovial tone in this dilemma: “Yet do I marvel at this curious issue: / To make a poet black, and bid him sing!” (13-14). Once again and again, Cullen and Hughes express their resilience in the face of racism by way of their poetry.

Even though both poets write on the discrimination that surrounds them, it is worth noting that neither author straight labels the “white man” as the lead to. Rather, the blame is placed upon a a lot more vague, common sense of society and the globe in which they reside. This is evident in Hughes’s perform “I, As well.” When the narrator is sent to the kitchen to eat, who sends him is merely described with the pronoun “they.” Even though the narrator is the victim of presumably white supremacy, the poem never ever particularly terms “them” as whites. Cullen utilizes a equivalent method. In “Yet Do I Marvel,” God himself is blamed for the black poet’s tragic fate, rather than the function of white males. Additionally, “Incident” describes the speaker of the racial slur simply as a “Baltimorean,” rather than identifying his race. In all 3 of these functions, Hughes and Cullen spoke of a broader lead to of discrimination, rather than basically the whites around them. The poets allude to a deeper racism than merely the words and actions they expertise rather, they are victims of an whole social technique that turns folks like the “Baltimorean” into vocal racists. Hughes and Cullen recognize that discrimination does not start and finish with the way they are treated it is woven into the fabric of American culture, and it is considerably grander in scale than merely those who take part.

A final commonality shared in between the works of Hughes and Cullen is the recurring complexity and development of the narrator. Both authors give depth and persona to the voices telling of their experiences. They are a lot more than actors in a discriminating world they are individuals who have pasts that have established who they are right now. In Hughes’s poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” the narrator describes a wide array of dramatic experiences, ranging from constructing the pyramids to witnessing Abe Lincoln traveling the Mississippi River. Whilst these statements are metaphorical in nature (to be additional examined later in this analysis), they give the reader an thought of the narrator’s accumulated wisdom. The recurring line “My soul has grown deep like the rivers” confirms a connection in between past experiences and personal development. Similar self-exploration is found in Cullen’s “Heritage,” in which the narrator explores his sentiments towards his African ancestry. Although he feels distant from the jungles of Africa and a culture that appears as foreign to him as it would to any white man, the narrator still feels some sense of obligation to take interest and pride in his heritage. This character is offered a completely created persona, filled with guilt, conflict, and curiosity. Both Hughes and Cullen give depth to their narrators, revealing them to be men and women who have been shaped by their previous experiences.

Despite the similarities in content and thematic developments, the performs of Hughes and Cullen differ significantly in stylistic components. Even though Hughes shapes his work about a general concept that fits the archetypal African American, Cullen performs from distinct private experiences. Hughes feels a sense of obligation for speaking on behalf of a population previously unheard. His stories are produced applicable to the whole black population, speaking of experiences that are broad and not capable to be seasoned as a single individual in the literal sense. This is located in “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” where Hughes writes, “I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns had been young. / I constructed my hut close to the Congo and it lulled me to sleep” (five-six). 1 can safely assume the narrator has not literally had these experiences personally, rather they speak to the experiences of the black archetype. Whilst the man who constructed the pyramids is not the same man who saw Abe Lincoln pay a visit to New Orleans, they are males of the black neighborhood to which the poet seeks to supply a voice. Hughes generalizes to give broad application of his poems to the accurate experiences of black Americans. Not wanted to exclude his community by speaking on only his individual experiences, Hughes gives himself as a voice to the archetypal black life.

In contrast is the work of Cullen, which regularly tells specific stories of private knowledge. Cullen too sought to be a voice for the black community, however, he believed this could be accomplished via the recounting of his individual tales. For instance, “Incident” tells the story of a man who is named a “Nigger” although in Baltimore. Though this is a certain experience, it is a circumstance to which most black Americans of the era could relate. Each Hughes and Cullen seek to be relatable to the black community, and however two vastly differing method are taken in pursuit of this aim.

Probably the most notable variations in the works of Hughes and Cullen can be identified in their choice of language. Hughes seeks to totally free himself from the shackles of whitewashed literary standards, writing as a black man for a black audience. Cullen chooses to adhere to the traditional poetic rules, proving that it does not take a white man to create high good quality literature. These differing attitudes are manifested in chosen vocabulary and syntax. Hughes makes use of black English vernacular, writing the way that the archetypal black man sounds when he speaks. In “Mother to Son,” Hughes writes “For I’se nonetheless goin’, honey, / I’se nevertheless climbin’” (18-19). In this abandonment of normal English, Hughes places the verbal element of black culture in a literary context. In contrast is the formal, eloquent language of Cullen. In “Yet Do I Marvel”, his vocabulary and sentence structure is far from colloquial: “I doubt not God is excellent, effectively-which means, sort, / And did He stoop to quibble could inform why” (1-2). Cullen asserts his use of formal, common English as proof of the capabilities of black poets like himself.

Consistent with their attitudes towards classic literary rules, Hughes and Cullen took differing approaches to poetic structure, especially rhyme scheme and meter. Hughes employs free of charge verse, allowing him to boundlessly express the black knowledge to a black audience. His perform lacks a normal rhyme scheme and rhythm, with no normal meter to be followed. In opposition is the operate of Cullen, which, like his selected vocabulary, adheres to literary standards. 1 instance is “Incident,” following a normal rhyme scheme and meter. Written in conventional ballad form, its meter alternates each and every line among iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter. Its rhyme scheme follows an ABCB pattern, in which the final syllable in the second and fourth lines of each stanza rhyme. Giving the poem structure, Cullen employed this strategy as further proof of his ability to keep up with even the best literary figures.

Although both Cullen and Hughes play significant roles in the Harlem Renaissance, Hughes stands out as the greater poet. Cullen clearly expresses his talent and potential to express black life inside the confines of regular literature, even so, Hughes really opened the door on a new realm of poetry for generations to come. By breaking the mold on regular English and standard rhyme scheme and meter, he speaks to an audience prior unaddressed and ignored. Poetry was now available for consumption to all who chose to partake, rather than basically the elite planet of literature. In addition, his use of black English vernacular helped to legitimize its presence as a accurate dialect of English rather than basically a butchering of correct speech. Due to the fact he speaks for and to the basic African American, Hughes offers solidarity to an whole neighborhood suffering from discrimination. Although each poets have generated exquisite work highlighting the plight of the African American, Hughes’s function has produced a far more important stride for both poetic standards and the black neighborhood in the United States.

As poets of an era filled with horrific racism, Hughes and Cullen supplied insight into the darker side of America. Each shared stories of struggling against a society saturated with discrimination, whilst also supplying the reader insight into created and knowledgeable narrators. Nonetheless, these stories are told with differing techniques: although Hughes makes use of archetypal stories, black English vernacular, and cost-free verse type to resonate with an entire community, Cullen maintains a specific, person point of view, employing formal English and regular rhyme scheme and rhythm. Through their similarities and differences, Cullen and Hughes each prove themselves to be groundbreaking poets for the African American community.
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