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

By Joseph McLaren | Go to book overview

Afterword

From The Drama of King Shotaway ( 1823) to Jelly's Last Jam ( 1993), the majority of African American plays, by protesting oppression, in various ways have addressed the race problem. Professor Joseph McLaren has placed Langston Hughes's plays squarely within that tradition. In an interview in 1961, Hughes called for a renewal of protest theatre, a vital format that he loved.

I don't see why we couldn't have agit-prop plays if one wanted them or needed them. In my opinion, there's a need for them right now. There is a shift at the moment from material that was not very socially conscious for a decade [the fifties]. You can detect it in poetry or the theatre in New York now--toward more socially conscious material again. I think writers are starting to realize that there are so many social problems that need to be stated forcefully and strongly, but social material has not been fashionable since the McCarthy era because it has been dangerous to use it. ( Reuben Silver, personal interview, 1961)

As Professor McLaren demonstrates, Langston Hughes, in his early writing years, built his plays around themes of social issues. He used song, dance, poetry, and satire to object to southern white racism ( Mulatto, 1935), religious prejudice ( Mule Bone, 1930, with Zora Neale Hurston ), injustice in the legal system ( Scottsboro Limited, 1931), unemployment ( Angelo Herndon Jones, 1936), job discrimination ( Don't You Want to Be Free?, 1938), Hitler's racial policies ( Em-Fuehrer Jones, 1938), union busting ( The Organizer, 1938), and theatre and film stereotypes ( Scarlet Sister Barry, 1938, and Limitations of Life, 1938); even in

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