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Every period in history throws up its own sons and daughters of idiosyncratic thought; what is intriguing is that there is very often a common thread that binds these people, one that crosses all borders of gender, religion and ethnic origin. If there is one thing that has been a constant is change and upheaval that takes place after major events like war or natural calamities. As has been observed all through the ages, there is always an action, or maybe reaction to these major events. These actions find expression in the works of art, literature and of course political thought; this in turn leads to either mass awakenings among people with varying after effects.
The black response
The Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and early 1930s was probably one of the most well-documented literary movements in recent times. Apart from being an outpouring of thoughts and ideas by dramatists, poets, artists and writers, this movement was a major step forward in the affirmation of Afro-Americans as a separate racial identity. There evolved a certain pride in this community, a pride to be black; a thought that was swept under the carpet hitherto.
Along with writers like W.E.B. Du Bois, Jean Toomer & Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, one of the brightest stars in the Renaissance firmament have made an invaluable contribution with his poems and other literary works. His poem, I too, sings America is a defiant message to all those people who think being white is good just as much as being black is bad. The last few lines of this poem are affirmations of what was at the heart of Black people – racial equality and opportunity in all fields.
Langston Hughes has brought out the collective angst of a race that was suppressed for far too long. What came out of this struggle for acceptance was pride in their own ethnic origin, a fact that was best demonstrated by the music and literature of Hughes and other writers of the Renaissance. Through their literary magazine, Crisis they were also able to tell the white world that they would not back off in fear of reprisal of any kind. This was therefore an answer to the problem of racial discrimination at the time.
In support of feminism
Virginia Woolf who lived in the 1920s was known for her exceedingly stark and strong views on the gender discrimination issue. She found it difficult and virtually impossible to understand why a woman was treated in a particular way, just by virtue of being a woman. Her work entitled, A room of one’s own, is indicative of her assertiveness as a female writer in a man’s world. She wonders how a woman is not even entitled to the pleasures of having her own private space – a concept that might sound ludicrous now in today’s world of increased equality among the sexes.
The rising of the masses
An answer to the social inequalities of his time was provided by Karl Marx in his ideology that sought the uplift of the working class. His words, ‘religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world and the soul of the soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people, intended that the working class realize the origin and extent of their shackles and rise together to achieve social equality.
There is no doubt that whether one studies political ideologies or literature or art, there is always a background color that is blended into the thought process of those who try to revolutionize the societies in which they live.
Hughes L. (1974) Selected poems of Langston Hughes. Vintage Books, a division of Random House. New York. pp 275.
Woolf, V. (1977) A Room of One’s Own. Granada, UK.
Marx K., 1844, “Contributions to the critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right”, in T.Bottomore and M.Rubel, Karl Marx: Selected Writings in Sociology and Social Philosophy. (Pelican 1976) Louisiana.