Odessa College Langston Hughes and Benn Michaels on Americanness Paper

1. Hillary Faus

Langston Hughes and Benn Michaels on Americanness

  • Theme for English B: “The valorization of difference above all is pluralism, and the new pluralism of the ‘20’s, I have argued, produced at least a theoretical intensification of the commitment to race (Michaels 137),” leaving Africans questioning what is true in their identity and beliefs. Langston Hughes realizes that although his skin tone is different from his professors, his interests are the same. This is very similar to what Benn Michaels says, “Asserting that races are different from each other without being better or worse, the pluralist can prefer his own race only on the grounds that it is his. Hence, “our America.” Tasked with writing his truth, he seems to share ideas with Benn Michaels saying, “The point now is to be what one is, to speak, believe, and act in accordance with one’s identity himself (Michaels 137).” Langston says, “I am what I see, hear and know,” a statement very similar to Michaels, neither stating it is what they believe in, a very interesting choice to me.
  • Let America be America again: In let America be America again, Langston compares the dream of America to its reality. America is seen as a land of freedom and equal opportunity but has rarely held true to that promise. Langston calls out “the false wreath of liberty,” stating, “I want to be in a land truly free, let America be the dream it was meant to be.” Langston realizes that America has never been the glory land it was built to be instead it was, “dog eat dog and mighty crush weak.” Michaels also notices the “false wreath of patriotism” stating, “but they are all nations, and each has the same right to live” (121). By understanding cultural identity as a form of personhood rather than as a particular set of beliefs and practices, this national “right to life” (122) makes assimilation a kind of murder or suicide (Michaels 138),” these authors have the same view of the American Dream being a false reality.
  • Advertisement for the Waldorf: Langston is expressing his anger and resentments in Advertisement for the Waldorf, the unfairness in treatment causes Langston to speak up. Comparing five-star luxury meals to soup and bread from charity lines. The luxuries of a home with fine linen versus praying for a cot, hoping not to be turned away. Langston emphasizes the fact that the rich are profiting off the work of the poor who suffer continuously. This is a reality in many states in America still.
  • Salvation: In Salvation we see a look at the pressure put on young Africans to spiritually grow and accept a religion Langston doesn’t fully understand. He uses powerful statements such as, “the room burst out in waves of rejoicing, women leaped in the air,” to emphasize the feeling of relief when he finally “accepted the lord as his savior.” Langston talks about laying in his bed crying feeling defeated that Jesus did not save him, I believe he’s speaking in terms of his reality in America. The home that is supposed to be free, he is feeling the pressure from his culture and society to fit into an idea of who he is struggling to conform. He mentions that night having a lasting impact on him and I believe we can assume his everyday situation had an impact on his style of writing and beliefs in adulthood.

2. Gabriela Marquez

In Theme for English B, Hughes tries to portray that even though he is the only colored person in his class, he is not very different from them. “I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like the same things other folks like who are other race.” He gives the notion that even if him and his instructor do not like each other or want to be linked, they are, because they are both Americans.

In Let America be America Again, Hughes explains his hopes for America, while also showing the differences of the reality of those who came to this country. “Let America be the dream that the dreamers dreamed.” Hughes suggests that those who came to America saw it as a free land and safe haven to escape the things that they were going through. Once they were there though, they see that it was never the “homeland of the free” that they dreamed.

In Salvation, Hughes speaks about the pressures he felt as a young boy to accept a religion and “be saved” even though he did not feel this way at all. I believe he took the words the adults told him about “seeing a light” literally and felt ashamed that he did not experience this. It took a toll on him and made him lose faith. I think this draws into the experience of colored people in a white dominant country. The feel ashamed when they cannot completely conform to the ways of others but that also does not mean they don’t want to. It also does not mean they are completely different and inferior to the dominant race.

In Advertisement for the Waldorf Astoria, Hughes is criticizing a hotel that was advertised during a time when many were homeless and starving. Rich people, “some of the men and women who got rich off of your labor” were spending money on hotel rooms while others who worked hard were still poor and these were usually the colored people. “Blacks were much less likely to hold better-paying skilled jobs, and they were more likely to work for lower-paying companies.” (Maloney, 2002)

“The real question, however, is not which past should count as ours but why any past should count as ours. Virtually all the events and actions that we study did not happen to us and were not done by us. In this sense, the history we study is never our own; it is always the history of people who were in some respects like us and in other respects different.”(Benn Michaels, 128) I believe Benn Michaels was arguing that the actions of people are their own and are not based on what happened to their ancestors or what is read in a history book. This is true, however there are many people who believe that our ancestors past defines us today; that we cannot stray from these views and be a better America. I think Hughes’ poem themes show the discrimination that African-Americans went through because of people like that.


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