In his move toward a "black aesthetic" in drama, Hughes had to reconcile three tendencies: didacticism, the iconographic, and the role of black musical entertainment. After his radical period, he had to choose the kinds of images he would portray: socially realistic tragic characters, comic figures, or heroic icons. The obvious protest language of the radical left became less viable during the war years when Hughes began to exploit the democratic argument and gradually shift toward musical drama. Nevertheless, the protest element in his plays continued to address social justice whether masked in rhetoric of the left or expressed in folk humor.
Unlike Richard Wright, whose Native Son reflects a social realism that emphasizes economic and psychological forces, Hughes in certain plays of the war years suggests Russian "socialist realism" after 1932. The Soviet state urged writers "to present positive heroes, and to sound bright, optimistic notes." Black iconography in the tradition of Carter G. Woodson also involves the presentation of "positive" heroes. The iconographic has become a significant element in the work of such contemporary black writers as Amiri Baraka and Sonia Sanchez. 1
One of Hughes's icons, Booker T. Washington, was thought by Woodson to be both a fund-raiser and an administrator who affected the American educational system through "practical education." 2 However, Hughes's poetic treatment of Washington is ambivalent. During the early years of his radical phase, Hughes was not a champion of Washington. The encomium "Alabama" deifies Washington, but Red Flag onTuskegee