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Langston Hughes and His Jazz Shoes

Hughes - The Feminist. The Marxist. The Myth

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Madam and Her Madam
 
 

I worked for a woman,
She wasn't mean--
But she had a twelve-room
House to clean.

Had to get breakfast,
Dinner, and supper, too--
Then take care of her children
When I got through.

Wash, iron, and scrub,
Walk the dog around--
It was too much,
Nearly broke me down.

I said, Madam,
Can it be
You trying to make a
Pack-horse out of me?

She opened her mouth.
She cried, Oh, no!
You know, Alberta,
I love you so!

I said, Madam,
That may be true--
But I'll be dogged
If I love you!

Analysis Using Feminist Literary Theory

According to Dr. Kristi Siegel, feminism can be described as focusing on sexual political views and differences. She believes that men and women should evaluate the weight that being a woman or having feminine qualities has on societies. (Siegel, 1). We can evaluate Hughes’ poem "Madam and her Madam" using this theory to better understand the burden of traditional "women’s work".

The first stanza of the poem states that the "woman was not mean, but had a twelve room house to clean". This is a statement that it is a woman’s job to clean houses, and she will hire another woman to do it if she is wealthy. The second stanza states that it was the hired Madam’s job to take care of the children and prepare all of the meals. The third stanza is stating yet even more laborious tasks for the woman to do, and all of the hard work "nearly broke [her] down. These two stanzas highlight what people believe is "woman’s work". Historically, men did not realize how difficult of a job it is to keep a house. The fourth stanza is the about servant standing up for herself. She wants the Madam to know that she is treating her like a slave. Women have been treated like this for most of human history. Wealth is the woman’s only escape from the back breaking labor. The Madam denies the poor treatment in the fifth stanza, and expresses her appreciation for the work her servant does. She appreciates it, because she knows how difficult it is. The servant, however, does not welcome the treatment on her end. She says, "I’ll be dogged if I love you!" The woman probably feels this way, because she works hard for the wealthy woman and has little energy left to tend for herself.

Democracy

 

Democracy will not come
Today, this year
Nor ever
Through compromise and fear.

I have as much right
As the other fellow has
To stand
On my two feet
And own the land.

I tire so of hearing people say,
Let things take their course.
Tomorrow is another day.
I do not need my freedom when I'm dead.
I cannot live on tomorrow's bread.

Freedom
Is a strong seed
Planted
In a great need.

I live here, too.
I want freedom
Just as you.

Analysis of "Democracy" in Marxism Literary Theory

According to Dr. Kristi Seibel, Marxism Literary theory is a sociological approach to understanding literature. With this perspective, literature is the result of historical forces and the circumstances surrounding them. Marxism is often used when we are focusing on the conflicts between classes, race, and different age groups (Seibel, 1).

Hughes was an African American, and did not have equal rights as his white neighbors during his time in history. "Democracy" is Hughes commenting to other African Americans that if they want to have equal rights they cannot comprise what they believe, nor should they fear standing up for themselves. Hughes was an educated man, but he was considered to be lower class at the time because of his race. He was expressing that he did not consider himself to be inferior to the white majority, because he had the strength "to stand on his own two feet." He was expressing that he deserved to have the right to "own the land", and be an equal member of society. He knew that no change would come from turning the other cheek. He was expressing that the freedom to be granted for future generations wasn’t going to help him at all; he wanted equality now. "Freedom is a strong seed, Planted in a great need" is simply informing readers that freedom is a right for everyone in the United States. Hughes was an American, and deserved to have the same rights as white people.

Dream Variations

 

To fling my arms wide
In some place of the sun,
To whirl and to dance
Till the white day is done.
Then rest at cool evening
Beneath a tall tree
While night comes on gently,
Dark like me-
That is my dream!

To fling my arms wide
In the face of the sun,
Dance! Whirl! Whirl!
Till the quick day is done.
Rest at pale evening...
A tall, slim tree...
Night coming tenderly
Black like me.

Analysis of "Dream Variations" using Archetypal/Myth CriticismAccording to Dr. Kristi Siebel, Archetypal/Myth Criticism is based on the work of Carl Jung, and is a view of works with the idea of a collective human consciousness. It is the idea that humans express feelings using common symbols or archetypes such as water, sun, colors, animals, and etc. For example, a dove in many cultures is a symbol for peace and purity (Siebel, 1).

Line first two lines of the poem states "To fling my arms wide, In some place of the sun". The sun is a common symbol for glory and life. This sets a positive tone for the poem, and makes me feel that Hughes is proud and full of joy. Lines three and four continue as follows, "To whirl and dance, Till the white day is done". White is often a symbol for purity. I think Hughes is saying that he was celebrating on a perfect day. The next two lines are "Then rest at cool evening, beneath a tall tree". I think there is the idea of safety from a tall tree. Hughes is expressing that he partied all day, and now is comforted by the evening. "When dark comes on gently, Dark like me- That is my dream!" Typically dark is a symbol of death. I think Hughes was saying he is living his life to the fullest, and he wants his death to be as smooth as his life. Lines three and four of the second stanza are "Dance! Whirl! Whirl! Till the quick day is done". Hughes is saying he is going to celebrate his life until his last day, and he will "rest as pale evening," or peacefully fade into death. The last three lines of the poem "A tall, slim tree…Night coming tenderly. Black like me" is expressing that he is not afraid to die. In fact, he is comforted, because he lead a eventful life.