Langston Hughes and James Baldwin Compare/Contrast Music Essay

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Langston Hughes and James Baldwin Compare/Contrast

Music plays a major role in much of the literature that came out of the Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance was an American cultural movement that aimed to celebrate African-American culture through literature, art, and other intellectual and artistic means. One of the musical styles that was influential in literary works of Langston Hughes and James Baldwin was the blues. This musical style rose out of the experiences of African-Americans; the Harlem Renaissance sought to celebrate these experiences by juxtaposing the struggles of past generations with the struggle of present generations. In "The Weary Blues" by Langston Hughes, a narrator observes an old blues musician as he sings his weary tune. In "Sonny's Blues" by James Baldwin, the narrator finally comes to understand what has motivated his brother to pursue a life in music and how his brother's experiences have been highly influential in the development of his character. The bluesman in "The Weary Blues" appears to be a future representation of Sonny in "Sonny's Blues."

In "The Weary Blues," Hughes structures the poem to be like a song. The poem is very musical in theme and uses terms that are associated with music. Hughes also uses terms that insinuate movement and create rhythm and flow within the poem. For example, "[droning] a drowsy syncopated tune/Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon" gives the poem a relaxed feel that does not appear to be too hurried or too loud (Hughes lines 1-2). This feeling is reinforced by the bluesman's demeanor as "he did a lazy sway…/He did a lazy sway…/to and fro on his rickety stool" (lines 6-7, 11). Repetition in the poem also aids in the creation of a music-like structure, especially through the use of onomatopoeia.
"Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor" helps to set the musical setting for the song as well as the bluesman.

The poem's somber tone is reflected in the blues song that is a central focus in "The Weary Blues." This is demonstrated through the bluesman's playing and singing. The narrator notes that the bluesman makes "that poor piano moan with melody" and sings "[in] a deep voice with a melancholy tone" (line 10, 17). A feeling of disconnect is created by juxtaposing descriptions of a melodic piano with a melancholy tone. Disconnect is further emphasized by the bluesman who contends, "Ain't got nobody in all this world/Ain't got nobody but ma self./I's gwine to quit ma frownin'/And put my troubles on the shelf" (lines 19-22). In a sense, the bluesman states that he has the power to put his troubles behind him, if only for a moment, and enjoy his life even if it is by himself.

Langston Hughes has been not for his repudiation to "differentiate between his personal experience and the common experience of black America. [He] sought to tell the stories of his people in the ways that reflected their actual culture, including both their suffering and their love of music, laughter, and language itself" ("Langston Hughes"). This concept is clearly evident in Baldwin's….....

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