Major themes of Langston Hughes poetry

Question: Discuss major themes of Langston Hughes’s poetry. Major themes of Langston Hughes poetry


Langston Hughes (1901-1967) is one of the best poets in American literature. His poetry mainly uses a variety of thematic approaches to present the situation of the black people of America.


Music is one of the special themes of Langston Hughes’s poetry.  He particularly uses music such as blues and jazz. Many of his poems contain an identifiable rhyme or beat to express grief, lost love, anger, and frustration. He has often hinted at music to create a link between past and present. Calling the musical traditions of slaves, Hughes has associated himself with the painful history of African Americans. Like Jazz and the Blues, Hughes’s poetry has a distinctive and thoughtful melody that often portrays stories of sadness, isolation, and loneliness.

The American Dream

Many of Langston Hughes’s poems invoke the theme of the American Dream. In 1931, James Truslow Adams defined the American Dream: “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” However, Hughes addresses the idea of being deprived of the country, including African American, indigenous-American, low-income immigrant, and poor peasant. He depicts that the dignity of freedom and equality is beyond the reach of these peoples, and they are subjected to the brunt of superstition, oppression, and poverty. Their dreams die because of their miserable condition. That is why Hughes often ends his poems on a somewhat optimistic note, expressing his belief that African Americans will one day be free to pursue their dreams.


During Langston Hughes’ time, his African American readers felt that his work directly explored their lives, their hopes, fears, their past, and their dreams. African American characters embody all the complexities of isolated American life. Hughes writes from the perspective of jazz musicians, frustrated dreamers, disadvantaged students, and many more. Hughes’ work focuses on the strength, endurance, and sanctity of their souls in his characters. He also praised their physical beauty, denying the “white” standard of beauty that dominated popular culture in the early 20th century.


Hughes often writes about aspiration as dreams. He discovers sundry aspirations such as hidden dreams, lost dreams, and dreams back to life. African Americans were treated like second-class citizens in American law. Hughes believed that this poor social status had forced most African Americans to hide their dreams. Because of this, Hughes manifests the power of dreams in various ways throughout his work. In his poems, Hughes remarks that despite the difficulty of achieving these dreams, it is important to maintain aspirations and dreams. He also writes that if these dreams are dormant for a long time, they can explode.


Though Langston Hughes’s tone is softer, he has his own way of denouncing racism and depicting the oppression that African Americans experienced at the hands of the patriarchal system. He alludes to lost and forgotten aspirations, insinuating that African Americans are not allowed access to the American Dream because of their race. He depicts racism as being tied up with religious hypocrisy. Hughes is realistic about the discriminatory environment that he lives in, but he also expresses hope that one day, racial inequality will perish from the history of America.


Many of the speakers in Langston Hughes’s poems start in situations of despondency and hopelessness. One has argued with a lover, another faces discrimination, a biracial man struggles with his identity, and so on. However, Hughes commonly creates a narrative so that the protagonist/speaker can reach a state of self-actualization. Despite his or her difficult surroundings, these individuals are able to find inherent inner strength which allows them to persevere against the odds.


From the light of the above discussion, it is transparent that Langston Hughes is not rebellious or cruel, he is the poet of humanity who gives the light of dreams and the source of survival in the unspoken darkness.

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SR Sarker
SR Sarker
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