Langston Hughes and James Lasdun

In the poem “Dinner Guest: Me,” Langston Hughes addresses “The Negro Problem” that is present in Alain Locke’s article The New Negro and which W.E.B. DuBois brings up in his book The Souls of Black Folk. Hughes says, “I know I am / The Negro Problem / Being wined and dined, / Answering the usual questions / That come to white mind / Which seeks demurely / To probe in polite way / The why and wherewithal / Of darkness U.S.A.–/ Wondering how things got this way / In current democratic night, / Murmuring gently / Over fraises du bois, / ‘I’m so ashamed of being white.'” The problem that Hughes is addressing in this poem seems to be the same problem DuBois talks about when he says, “They approach me in a half-hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town; or, I fought at Mechanicsville;  or, Do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil?” The problem that Hughes and DuBois are addressing is not solely the problem of being beaten, but also entails the larger problem of being thought of more as an idea than a human being. Locke agrees with this when he says, “So for generations in the mind of America, the Negro has been more of a formula than a human being–a something to be argued about, condemned or defended, to be ‘kept down,’ or ‘in his place,’ or ‘helped up,’ to be worried with or worried over, harassed or patronized, a social bogey or a social burden.” The way this problem is seen in the eyes of white Americans is pictured well Hughes’ poem. People feel ashamed to be white because of the social burden African Americans are. Yet as Hughes ends his poem, “Solutions to the Problem, / Of course, wait.” It is also interesting that Hughes capitalizes Problem and Solution as if they are proper nouns.

James Lasdun’s poem “Locals” reminded me of Langston Hughes’ poetry. Similarly to Hughes’ poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” Lasdun compares African Americans to nature, specifically trees. And similar to Hughes’ idea of the African American as a problem, Lasdun says, “the original claim that made your being anywhere intrusive.”


One thought on “Langston Hughes and James Lasdun

  1. Emily! Such a nice post love! 🙂 Your comment about how Hughes “capitalizes Problem and Solution as if they are proper nouns” is a great observation. Why do you think Hughes makes that move?


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