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Poem analysis - Assignment Example

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They both express the themes of race and suffering. Their suffering lies deep inside their souls. These poems use description to highlight the role of…
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March 22, Race and Suffering in McKay’s “The Harlem Dancer” and Hughes’ “The Weary Blues” Claude McKay’s “The Harlem Dancer” and Langston Hughes’ “The Weary Blues” are poems about painful human conditions. They both express the themes of race and suffering. Their suffering lies deep inside their souls. These poems use description to highlight the role of race in the subjects’ suffering and musical metaphors and similes to express their suffering, with differences in the musical tools they use.
These poems use description to underscore race as an important element in their suffering. The prostitute in “The Harlem Dancer” is a young black woman with a “swarthy neck black, shiny curls” (McKay 9). 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 audience “[d]evoured her with their eager, passionate gaze” (McKay 12). She loses her identity as a prostitute and suffers from it. McKay highlights how dancing and music help her alleviate her suffering. The speaker of the poem says that he can see her “falsely-smiling face” and “knew her self was not in that strange place” (McKay 13-14). She performs her anxiety through losing her “self” or identity in the music. Hughes also understands the ability of music to reduce inner pains. The “old piano moan[s]” (Hughes 18). The pianist uses music to express his weary blues that do not only refer to his music with its sad tone, but also, and perhaps more importantly, to his suffering. His suffering is so deep that he needs music as he sleeps, wherein “[h]e slept like a rock or a man that’s dead” (Hughes 35). He is dead inside, but music helps him live.
These poems describe race and its connection to suffering. For the subjects of these poems, music is their means for living, which is a pun for making money and surviving. The prostitute sings and dances, while the pianist sings and plays the piano, but they both know that music is their everyday savior. Their suffering is so deep, but music reaches into them deeply to release their pains, though the source of pain may be limitless due to their social and economic conditions.
Works Cited
Hughes, Langston. “The Weary Blues.” Print.
McKay, Claude. “The Harlem Dancer.” Print. Read More
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