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Kirk Welsh

July 27, 2009

SWC 100 Paper #2

Hughes the Mad Man, Hughes the Shrewd Man

Langston Hughes, the author and poet, seems to have two different personalities when

it comes to writing poems and novels. It seems as if the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has

come into effect. During the times in which Jim Crow Laws were in effect, these two sides

of Hughes seemed to represent the two sides of the black community. Out of the two, one of

the sides were passive and accepted the situation for what it was; the other side proved to be

an unnecessary one, as he was angry about the treatment of Blacks and hated Whites.

Langston Hughes’ poems, such as “Railroad Avenue” or “Mother to Son,” represented the

submissive side, and the novel The Best of Simple best represented angry blacks during this

time. It was hard to handle the treatment peacefully, but some minorities just sat back and

watched the times change for the better. For the time being, people like Simple, in The Best

of Simple, preached the anger that was built up inside.

“Well, when Christ comes back this time, I hope He comes back mad his own self. I

hope He drives the Jim Crowers out of their high places, ever living last one of them from

Washington to Texas! I hope He smites white folks down!” (Hughes, “Simple Prays a

Prayer” 10). This is one of the first chapters of the book, and it is already evident that the

main character Simple felt much tension. He hates the whites and their Jim Crow Laws, and

wishes that the Almighty Creator (God) willcome down from Heaven and wrap all whites up

in an angry wrath. This represents the side of Hughes and the blacks built up with hate and

fury due to this mistreatment;similar to the teachings of Malcolm X. Malcolm X believed

that in order for an African American to get their point across, aggression and havoc had to

be present. Fighting these opposed individuals was the only answer to the problem,

according to Malcolm X. Consequently, Hughes put all of these characteristics in Simple,

the main character in the novel.

The attitude built up inside of Simple caused him to drink a lot and have hostility

towards women. There are many references, in the book, that shows Simple’s resentment.

“It was only after Eve got hold of the apple that everything got wrong, huh? Snakes started

to bite, women to fight, men to paying, and Christians to praying… A woman can make a

fool out of a man” (Hughes, “Wooing the Muse” 32). Simple thought of women as the

bottom of the earth, and blamed them for turning the world upside down. So on, Simple has

three women in his life and a possible fourth woman.

One woman is his wife Isabel; Simple dislikes her and really wants to get a divorce,

and constantly puts her down verbally. The second of his women is Joyce, his girlfriend on

the side. Joyce is a very sophisticated woman, whom takes good care of Simple. She is

always there when he needs her and he would like to be with her one day. Although he feels

this way, he still pushes her away at times because he does not want to fully depend on her.

Depending on her makes him feel as if she has an advantage over him. “It is essential to me

if I do want to live off of Joyce. And I don’t want to live off of no woman. A woman will

take advantage of you, if you live off of her” (Hughes, “Simple Prays A Prayer” 7). Next,

there is Zarita, Simple’s so-called mistress, whom he refers to as his late “night special.”

“She [Zarita] ain’t nothing but a night-time friend” (Hughes, “Simple and His Sins” 24). He

and Zarita go out and have drinks at the bar all of the time. The things that connect the both

of them are liquor and sex. Finally, there exists a landlady whom Simple is possibly creeping

around with, but it is kept on the low.


“Well, son, I’ll tell you: Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair… But all the time I’se

been climbin’ on… So boy don’t you turn back. Don’t you set down on the steps ‘Cause you

finds it’s kinder hard” (Hughes, “Mother to Son”). Langston Hughes’ submissive attitude is

shown here in the poem “Mother to Son.” The narrator of the poem realizes that racism has

caused her life to be hard. In spite of the hardship, she encourages her son not to give up and

keep onmoving. This theory rather connects to the philosophies of Dr. Martin Luther King

Jr. . King encouraged blacks to fight against the Jim Crow Laws without violence and anger.

Instead of physical violence, he [King] assembled boycotts and the famous “Million Man

March” to speak out on the topic.

The poetry and writings of Hughes bond in a way, even though they approach racism

differently. The writer of The Best of Simple is more topical than the poetic side, but they

both agree on the fact that segregation is wrong amongst a group of people. People should

not be discriminated against because of the color of their skin. These Jim Crow laws were

everywhere and separated blacks from the rest of the world. Both types of writers tried to let

the world know about what was going on and tried to bring about changes. Through his

writings, Hughes brought both types of people, the Malcolm X type and the Dr. King type,

together to bring about this change. Mutually, these people helped out because certain things

cannot be done by just one type of person.

The two sides of Langston Hughes feud against each other about the topic of racism

in America. The poet side of Hughes seems to be more understanding of the situation than

the author side of Hughes. Hughes the author contains much tension and anger about the

situation, and has a much more violent response to racism in the country. Although these

double sides handle the subject differently, they have a clear understanding that

discrimination is not right at all. As sad as it is, in some way it still exists today and may

never become fully ceased. The Jim Crow laws are eliminated and inequity is illegal in

today’s society. Seeing as discrimination is not as open as it used to be when Hughes was

still alive, the question of which side will Hughes choose to be on springs to the surface.

Although times are easier, would Hughes take the passive role of the poet? On the other

hand, would he continue to take the role of the mad man that upset at being discriminated

against? More than likely, Langston Hughes would stay the timid fellow that set back and

waited for times to change, as usual.

Works Cited

Hughes, Langston. “Simple Prays a Prayer.” The Best of Simple. 1961. New York: Hill and

Wang, 1992. 6-10.

--. “Wooing the Muse.” The Best of Simple. 1961. New York: Hill and Wang, 1992. 28-34.

--. “Simple and His Sins.” The Best of Simple. 1961. New York: Hill and Wang, 1992. 23-25.

--. “Mother to Son.”

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