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She is a beautiful young woman, but instead of pursuing her dreams, she is dancing and singing as a prostitute. The use of race suggests that her skin color has affected her access to social and economic opportunities. Hughes also connects race to suffering. He mentions that the pianist has “his ebony hands on each ivory key,” (9), followed by “[h]e made that poor piano moan with melody” (10). The nearness of these statements implies that the man’s race has something to do with his suffering. He could be experiencing distress because his music cannot have a bigger audience due to his race. He could also be witnessing racism daily that burdens his soul.
Besides racial descriptions, these poems have similes that relate to suffering. McKay uses a simile to compare the prostitute’s voice to “blended flutes” (3). Blended flutes demonstrate the beauty of the woman’s form that is compared to a flute, and the melody of her song that is similar to flute music that can be understood by many people. This simile is important in contrasting the form with the essence of the music, which is no longer blended, but full of pain and sadness. Hughes also uses simile to show that suffering can be performed. If the prostitute can sing and dance and appear like she is in another place, the pianist in Hughes’ poem can also perform, this time with a piano, while he is singing. Hughes says: “He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool” (13). The pianist looks like a musical fool, but at least, he has music to express his sadness that is deep in his soul. He uses music to unload the burdens of his race.
Apart from similes, these poems use musical metaphors to describe how music helps express and reduce people’s innermost anxieties. The prostitute of “The Harlem Dancer” feels like an object that is consumed because her performance is paid through “coins” and because her
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The lines of this poem are in blank verse or unrhymed iambic pentametre. This has given a natural fluidity to Ulysses’ speech. In this poem Ulysses’ monologue has helped to highlight his character. This is a man bored with the daily responsibilities of governing his kingdom.
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