April 5, 2019
To live in America and consider another person an American or have an American identity can be simple and complex. It can just be a person who is born in America and consider themselves American. Then it can be complicated where people regard themselves as an American in a thoughtful way, or it’s a right that needs to be gained. Though it can be one or the other, one idea that can be considered valid is that to be an American is to struggle. In their works, writers Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes write different ideas that to be American or have an American identity, yet when comparing their writing, it’s not about your outside appearance but your struggles.
The author Zora Neale Hurston is an example of an American struggling. As she was young and lived in Eatonville, Florida, she had to deal with her father who was not a family man, but she had a strong relationship with her mother. She did not have to deal with racism as she lived her childhood and never met a white person at that time until her mother passed away. That led her to never finish grade school, even though this adversity she was able to get accepted and complete at Howard University in Washington, DC. Hurston moved to Harlem and entered Barnard college and took two different approaches at the same time, as she studied with the famous anthropologist Franz Boas at Barnard and at Harlem, she was a storyteller. Though during this time and onward, the works that Hurston made were not in favor of “smart men” that reads her works. Though Hurston is not writing works that follow fellow black authors writings with a specific image to the white readers, as Hurston thinks that she doesn’t need to “uplift her race.” Zora then worked as a maid at the end of her life. Though she had a comfortable experience at a young age, she went through many struggles with her audience and fellow African Americans with her works since many of them believe she is rejecting her people’s legacy. The type of writings that she wrote made her different from other black writers but made her an outcast in the time of the Harlem Renaissance.
One of Zora Neale Hurston works that were different from other Harlem writers is How It Feels to Be Colored Me as it does not show the same idea of some but at the time most fellow African Americans. As she writes in How It Feels to Be Colored Me, “I have no separate feeling about an American citizen and colored” (Hurston 960). The text shows how she cares more about individuality than what others think. Mary also added that, “Hurston strove to reflect individuals rather than the broad ideologist outed in most Modernist fiction” (Russell). Zora did not follow the same mindset in Harlem as others did where the people there show their struggle of living as an African American, but rather the struggle of a single person; as she strove for the ideas of individualism than collectivism. Hurston also writes, “Slavery is the price I paid for civilization, and the choice was not with me” (Hurston 959). This heavily showed that she’s not upset that her ancestors were enslaved nor expressing that she wants justice that can never be gained, but instead accepts it happened and is glad that because of it she’s is having a civilized life, and though it was not her choice, she is okay with it. The story that Zora wrote is not a girl accepting the world as it is and becoming another person that divides themselves, but the struggle of a girl living to be herself. As Zora showed the struggle of being herself, another author showed the struggle of what many African Americans felt.
Langston Hughes, on the other hand, was also a considerable part of the Harlem Renaissance. Langston was born in Joplin, Missouri and his parents were separated, so he was forced to live with his grandmother for a time. Though the parents lived separated he choose to live with his mother in Detroit and Cleveland; it is also the same place he finished high school and began writing. Langston then went to the Columbia college in 1920, but after a year left. After leaving the college, he published many popular works, to the point that in the year 1930 he was considered the best of Harlem writers. Then as the Great Depression came, it ended the African American writing except for Langston Hughes, as Langston became an activist in 1930 and joined the Communist party. That got him into being blacklisted by the FBI in 1959, and he couldn’t travel outside the United States. Though at the end of his life he was allowed to go international lands. Though Langston was actively connected with other African Americans and showed the white readers their struggles, and today it still connects with many readers.
As Langston Hughes wrote many poems such as Mother to Son and I, Too to show the struggle of an African American. In the poem, Mother to Son Hughes wrote, “Don’t you set down on the steps / ‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard” (Hughes 1038). What Langston wrote was advice that his mother gave him, and it’s about never giving up and never backing down as it’s a hard life for African Americans in American, but many other people from different ethnicities can relate to this poem because it’s a struggle to live in America, especially when the person is not white. Then in the other poem I, Too Langston wrote, “Nobody’ll dare say to me, “eat in the kitchen… I Too, am American” (Hughes 1038). As this poem shows that he is also American just like the ones who tell him to eat in the kitchen, and even if they never see him as an American and just something less than equal, yet he sees himself as an American no matter what. This is part of what created the American identity through struggles. It’s a struggle that many non-whites that had to deal with since many whites considered them as not American like themselves, yet they accepted it as their identity and confirms themselves as a true American like the Whites. Then the author of Pain, Pride, & Renewal: How Langston Hughes Embodied the Harlem Renaissance, Noah Standish said, “Hughes’s depiction of African American pride was instrumental to the Harlem Renaissance’s theme of artistic renewal and racial pride” (Standish). As Langston was a significant part of the Harlem Renaissance, he and many others struggle to see themselves as an American since they were not of white ethnicity and discouraged for it, but nonetheless, they struggled to assert their culture and themselves to others as Americans. This is how Langston was an American, as he struggled to live and tell American’s of his struggle and the discrimination with the poems he wrote and being true to himself. As these two writers wrote about different ideas, both seem to have a common trait during their time, and it‘s not of their outside appearance.
The common trait is that the writers struggled to live in America and in turn that’s what makes them American. As to show why to be American is to strive, history and religion shows many reasons. An example is that when Americans struggled to free themselves from the British empire. Another example of the revolution is Paul Revere’s ride and what he said: “Noise! You’ll have noise enough before long! The regulars are coming out!” (Standish). This man struggled that night to warn the people who are going to fight for their freedom to be ready since the British were coming and even though he wasn’t the only one in that night, he was a person that struggled and that in turn made him a true American. America became a place where many religions are accepted such as Christianity and Buddhism. As Christianity is “The Christian faith centers on beliefs regarding the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ” (Unknown) and Buddhism is stated as, “The teaching of Siddhārtha Gautama that suffering is inherent in life and that one can be liberated from it by cultivating wisdom, virtue, and concentration” (unknown). These two religions were not created in America, but brought to America and showed concepts of struggling, as many of the faith’s teachings are about how to live pass adversity which is something Americans deal with in everyday life. As American history and religion from different origins connect to Americans in many ways, such as to struggle through life even though they won’t admit it.
The idea of being American or what is the American identity can be simple or complex depending on a person or both but to indeed be American is to struggle. The two authors of the Harlem Renaissance struggled to be themselves or tried to be a part of the country that discriminates them. The idea that to be American is to struggle is shown to this day as well as many American. There are many struggling to find work so they can live another day. There are many struggling to accept who they are and what they like even though many people will hate them just because of them being true to themselves. It doesn’t have to be a huge one; it can also be a small one where you don’t know what college or university to go after community college. That’s what it means to be American: in a simple and complex understanding it isn’t when things are good in life that makes you American, it’s how you handle the bad.
Hughes, Langston. “I, Too” The Norton Anthology American Literature, pp. 1038.
Hughes, Langston. “Mother to Son” The Norton Anthology American Literature, pp. 1037-1038.
Hurston, Zora. “How It Feels to Be Colored Me” The Norton Anthology American Literature, pp. 958-960.
Leehey, Patrick M. “The Real Story of Paul Revere’s Ride.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 17 Apr. 2017, http://www.biography.com/news/paul-reveres-ride-facts.
Russell, Mary Catherine. “Zora Neale Hurston: Scientist, Folklorist, Storyteller.” Pursuit: The Journal of Undergraduate Research at the University of Tennessee, vol. 8, no. 1, Jan. 2017, pp. 125–137. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=123884543&site=ehost-live.
Standish, Noah. “Pain, Pride, & Renewal: How Langston Hughes Embodied the Harlem Renaissance.” LOGOS: A Journal of Undergraduate Research, vol. 11, Fall 2018, pp. 40–50. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login. aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=133022504&site=ehost-live.
Unknown. “Buddhism.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Buddhism.
Unknown, History.com. “Christianity.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 13 Oct. 2017, http://www.history.com/topics/religion/history-of-christianity.
Hughes, Langston. “I, Too” The Norton Anthology American Literature, pp. 1038
Hughes, Langston. “Mother to Son” The Norton Anthology American Literature, pp. 1037-1038
Hurston, Zora. “How It Feels to Be Colored Me” The Norton Anthology American Literature, pp. 958-960