Langston Hughes: Folk Dramatist in the Protest Tradition, 1921-1943

By Joseph McLaren | Go to book overview

marks his return to an integrationist ideology and to the black activist fold. The production employs black icons, heroes and heroines from African American history, to challenge American democracy.

If Hughes considered the democratic tradition to be both "eternally embattled" and "eternally inspiring," his plays of the 1930s show that he was a literary soldier who confronted the democratic ideal with the weapon of radical ideology. 46 However, in the 1940s, his reliance on black icons signals a transition, reflecting the cultural approach and influence of Carter G. Woodson as well as other proponents of black history. Hughes's focus on positive images of black life foreshadows the development of a black aesthetic in the 1960s. 47

As playwright, Hughes has been the subject of both positive and negative critical commentary presented in theatre reviews and scholarly studies. Reactions have come from such observers as Darwin Turner, Doris Abramson, Loften Mitchell, James Emanuel, Amiri Baraka, Webster Smalley, James Hatch, Richard Barksdale, and Leslie Catherine Sanders. Darwin Turner was one of Hughes's harshest critics; Smalley, who edited Five Plays by Langston Hughes ( 1963), one of Hughes's strongest supporters. Leslie Catherine Sanders in The Development of Black Theater in America: From Shadows to Selves ( 1988) provides substantial interpretation of Hughes's plays and ultimately argues that Hughes furthers black drama through his use of "every aspect of black folk expression," though Hughes's characters were "ultimately benign." However, certain Hughes characters resist oppressive conditions, especially in such plays as Don't You Want to Be Free?48

Hughes's assertive attack on Jim Crow during the '30s shows that he challenged not only the presentation of stereotypical folk images but also those institutional structures that restricted mobility and employment for African Americans. Though masked in strategies of the left, certain plays defy doctrinaire proscriptions and evoke folk characters through the use of cultural elements. Taken as a whole, Hughes's plays of the 1930s show a broad vision of black life, including African roots, the slave experience, rural and urban folk situations, family conflict, and the consequences of economic inequities. Underlying both tragic and comic presentations is a consistent emphasis on social rectification.


NOTES
1.
Faith Berry, Langston Hughes: Before and Beyond Harlem ( Westport, CT: Lawrence Hill, 1983) 99.
2.
Woodie King Jr., ed., New Plays for the Black Theatre ( Chicago: Third World Press, 1989) ii. Bernard L. Peterson Jr., Early Black American Playwrights and Dramatic Writers ( Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1990) 105-14, lists more than seventy dramatic works, including radio scripts. More than forty is a conservative estimate of completed works.

-12-

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Langston Hughes: Folk Dramatist in the Protest Tradition, 1921-1943
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Publication/Copyright Page iv
  • Dedication Page v
  • Contents ix
  • Foreword xi
  • Note xiii
  • Acknowledgments xv
  • Abbreviations xvii
  • Introduction 1
  • Endnotes 12
  • Chapter 1 - Folk Comedy in Collaboration: The Mule Bone Affair 17
  • Endnotes 29
  • Chapter 2 - Radical Drama and the Black Community 33
  • Endnotes 54
  • Chapter 3 - The Tragic Mode: Mulatto 59
  • Endnotes 74
  • Chapter 4 - The Gilpin Players and the Karamu Comedies 79
  • Endnotes 97
  • Chapter 5 - The Karamu Tragedies 101
  • Endnotes 114
  • Additional Info *
  • Chapter 6 - The Harlem Suitcase Theatre 117
  • Endnotes 136
  • Chapter 7 - Community Theatre, Black Iconography, and World War II 141
  • Notes 159
  • Notes 165
  • Notes 170
  • Afterword 173
  • Bibliography 175
  • Index 181
  • About the Author *
  • Recent Titles in Contributions in Afro-American and African Studies *
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