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

By Joseph McLaren | Go to book overview

Baraka, Hughes maintained the ideal of the American dream through the black arts era, when others believed it could not function for African Americans. 18 For Hughes, this ideal was a hybrid philosophy, joined with elements of Pan-Africanism and residual radicalism.

In My America," published in 1943, Hughes reinscribes the dilemmas expressed in his plays of the '30s and early '40s. Though he recognizes his own hybridity, his "Indian" ancestry and his "purely American" background--the Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray position--he protests discrimination based on race. America's bundle of contradictions is reflected in the freedom to protest and the suppression of certain ideological positions by McCarthyism. Freedom's Plow," Hughes 1943 prose poem, also addresses the dilemmas of the American dream. The poem uses the spiritual lyrics Keep Your Hand On The Plow! Hold On! as a motif in a chronicle that includes slavery and black-white labor. 19

In For This We Fight, one of his final scripts of the war years, Hughes undermined and valorized the democratic argument, suggesting the future protest mode of his stage plays, especially Simply Heavenly. Through the voice of the urban folk, he would use the indirect protest of Little Ham rather than the frontal assault of his most successful experimental poetry plays, Scottsboro Limited and Don't You Want to Be Free?

Hughes's transition during the war years revealed his ultimate concern, revitalizing black images through theatre of celebration, which presents models for African Americans and entertainment for general audiences without compromising political principles. He also reaffirmed that black music and humor could be effective masks of social protest.


NOTES
1.
Edward J. Brown, Russian Literature Since the Revolution, rev. ed. ( Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1982) 15-16; Molefi K. Asante, Afrocentricity: The Theory of Social Change ( Buffalo, NY: Amulefi, 1980) 19.
2.
Carter G. Woodson, The Mis-Education of the Negro ( Washington, DC: n.p., 1933) 30, 57.
3.
Faith Berry, Langston Hughes: Before and Beyond Harlem ( Westport, CT: Lawrence Hill, 1983) 139-40. In a revised version of "Red Flag", "Open Letter to the South", published in The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, ed. Arnold Rampersad and David Roessel ( New York: Knopf, 1994) 160, "He knew he lied" is deleted.
4.
Langston Hughes, drafts of preface to reissue of Up From Slavery, ts., 14 March 1965, cat. #207, LHP-YUBL, 1-11.
5.
Rhett S. Jones, "Why Black Theatre Is Essential to the Black Struggle", Black Masks Oct.-Nov. 1992: 14.
6.
C. O. Ogunyemi, "In Praise of Things Black: Langston Hughes and Okot p'Bitek", Contemporary Poetry 4. 1 ( 1981): 19.

-170-

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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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