Harlem and The Weary Blues are two of Langston Hughes’ most well-known works. Both pieces explore the African American experience in early 20th century America, and can be read as expressions of African American culture during this time period.
Harlem is a poem that describes the disappointment and frustration felt by African Americans who migrated to the North in search of a better life, only to find that opportunities were still limited. The poem is centered on the question “What happens to a dream deferred?”, suggesting that when dreams are constantly delayed or denied, they can turn into something destructive. Through vivid imagery, the poem depicts the emotions and experiences of those who had to cope with racism and poverty amidst a growing cityscape.
The Weary Blues is a poem that conveys the melancholy and loneliness experienced by an African American musician playing the blues in a nightclub. The poem uses musical language and imagery to portray the performer’s mournful tune, which speaks to themes of suffering and despair. The speaker describes how the music transports him to another time and place, one marked by hardship and struggle but also beauty and hope.
Taken together, Harlem and The Weary Blues offer complementary perspectives on the African American experience in early 20th century America. Harlem describes the realities of urbanization for African Americans, who were crowded into inner cities that offered little hope for upward mobility. The Weary Blues, on the other hand, imagines the emotional depth and resilience of African American musicians who turned their pain and suffering into art that spoke to the soul.
Ultimately, both pieces are testaments to the power of African American culture to reflect and respond to the complex social and political realities of their time. They show how literature and art can serve as vehicles for expressing the experiences, emotions, and dreams of marginalized communities, and offer readers a glimpse into the diversity and richness of American culture more broadly.