The Harlem Renaissance refers to an era in the history of America when there was a celebration of the uniqueness of the African-American culture. This era was marked by several activities exemplified by a vibrant nightlife, publication of a large number of short stories, plays, as well as poems written by the African-Americans. It also entailed novels and the creation of different forms of artwork by the African-Americans about African-Americans (Boyer, Clark, Halttunen, Kett, and Salisbury 314). Principally, the African-American society worked hard to eliminate the very common stereotypes through the various forms of art. A call was made by Charles Spurgeon Johnson to aspiring writers encouraging them to move to New York to explore their talent and form a mass of black creative artists that was critical. The migration that took place after this call by Charles became a very significant cultural phenomenon. Therefore, the Harlem Renaissance refers to the experience of African Americans in the US while the jazz age captures the essence of the lives of the white people (Fitzgerald 123).
The main theme that was evident in the jazz age was modernity and modernism. The life of the people centered on efficiency, technology, and the close connection that was established between the land and the people or their past. It seemed like they wanted to forget their past and become completely detached; the deep essence that was attached to this was no longer there. Therefore, there was an emphasis on the personality of the people other than the character. Many people wanted popularity over accomplishment (Long and Collier 422). In the Harlem Renaissance, in as much as there was modernity and modernism, people chose to reconnect with their past and history and take pride in their history. Pride as a theme was brought out strongly by Marcus Garvey who founded Universal Negro Improvement Association and the “Back to Africa” movement. Marcus took pride in being black and set out to encourage the people discouraging them from being pushovers.
Several individuals, such as Marcus Garvey, are a symbol of strength and pride, and it is through this that they are able to reach so many people of the black community. The two movements that he created were a statement. The Universal Negro Improvement Association was a statement to the populace that the black community was set out to accomplish that which any community can accomplish. Additionally, it was a strong message and an encouragement to the black community. When we compare this period- the Harlem Renaissance and the Jazz age, we can clearly distinguish something. According to the white community, art served to change the society before they would accept it. Contrary to this, African Americans used art to change the society for one simple reason: to be accepted into it (Powell and Bailey 73).
Langston Hughes is an amazing writer who was there during the Renaissance period and was a part of what went on during this time. He expressed his ideas through a poem and one of the poems clearly portrays the African American experience that was going on at this time. The poem entitled “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” talks passionately about the African American experience and reflects the hope that these people hope to find. The uses the opening line, “I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in the veins” (Boyer et al 212).
This line clearly indicates the passion that is there among the black community. All they are doing and every effort they channeled into their literature and music aimed towards making them accepted into the society as equals without discrimination. The poet explains how deep his passion is as well as determination in the line, “My soul has grown deep like the rivers” (Boyer et al 212). The memories that he has about the home that he knows, the Africa that he so much loves, are depicted clearly. The poet is nostalgic; he misses the innocence that he had as he was growing up (Boyer et al 213). In this poem, he allows people to see another different side of his country and continent.
Towards the end of the poem, the poet uses symbolism to bring out his optimism for the future and how he hopes that things will change as time goes by. This is evidenced when he says, “And I’ve seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset “(Boyer et al 212). This may have different interpretations to many people, but from his eyes and point of view, one can see that he hopes for something better, at the end. Sunset always marks the end of yet a day and that day will never be lived again (Fitzgerald 111). The author wishes for the best at the end of the day; he hopes that all the other things that differentiate the white and black may be set aside, and the community becomes united.
Boyer, Paul S., Clifford Clark, E., Karen Halttunen, Joseph Kett, F., and Neal Salisbury The Enduring Vision: A History of the American People.7th ed. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning, 2011. Print.
Fitzgerald, Scott. Tales of the Jazz Age. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Print.
Long, Richard and Eugenia Collier W.(Eds). Afro-American Writing: An Anthology of Prose and Poetry. Pennsylvania: Penn State University Press, 2010. Print.
Powell, Richard J., and David Bailey, A. Rhapsodies in Black: Art of the Harlem Renaissance. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1997. Print.