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Langston Hughes' Use of Literary Devices

To define the poetic style of Langston Hughes requires one to delve into the ranging content of his poems. The brash, rhythmic Harlem Renaissance poet wrote on everything from the celebration of family to the soft sounds of a summer night. However, a constant theme throughout his poetry is racial identity. This paper will demonstrate how Hughes combined two major poetic styles, the dramatic monologue and the lyric, in order to convey his messages about identity in America. It will examine ten of Hughes' poems in order to discover how his innovative style is carried throughout his career.

In his exegesis on the dramatic monologue, Robert Langbaum explains that the dramatic monologue style is substantially different from other forms of poetry. Langbaum's insight is that the dramatic monologue is "poetry of sympathy." It seeks to attract sympathy for the complexity underlying the identity of the poem's voice. The lyric, on the other hand, is what dramatic monologue writers like Browning and Tennyson fought against in order to found their school (Langbaum, 79). For Hughes, though, there is no conflict. He is able to capture the sympathy of his readers for his own struggle with identity in a melodic style.

For example, in the poem 'Dinner Guest, Me,' Hughes begins the poem with an identity statement, writing, "I know I am." Yet he seems to have mixed feelings about his being "wined and dined" as "The Negro Problem," not as his true self. His white friends are just as uneasy about themselves, for they say, "I'm so ashamed of being white." Hughes portrays these identity worries with sympathy for himself and his friends. He does not condemn the tenuous shape of their grip on the self; instead, he "wonders how things got this way." What sets Hughes' poetry apart is that he is able to maintain the lyricism poets like Browning and Eliot abandon (in favor of maximizing their crises of identity) and still convey his own uneasiness abo...

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Langston Hughes' Use of Literary Devices. (2009, March 18). In Retrieved 13:31, September 17, 2014, from