"A Toast to Harlem" is an extract from a volume of selections entitled The Best Of Simple which was published in 1961. The author, Langston Hughes, was born in Joplin, Missouri in 1902 and died in 1967. He is known as one of the most important writers and thinkers of the Harlem Renaissance, which was the African American artistic movement in the 1920s that celebrated black life and culture as well as racial pride. His prolific work was highly influenced by his life in New York City's Harlem. His literary works helped shape American literature and politics. Through writing Hughes conveyed his desire for equality; he condemned racism and injustice, and promoted African American culture.
Langston Hughes was famous as a poet during the period of the Harlem Renaissance, he is often remembered as "a Harlem Renaissance poet" but in addition to his work as a poet, Hughes was a novelist, columnist, playwright, and essayist. His brilliant career influenced the work of many other African American writers.
[...] In other words, if Simple had been an Indian he would have lived among the Indian community and not in Harlem, he wasn't allowed to settle in the reservation so he went to another one. The only difference is in the use of terms, blacks don't live in reservations but since Harlem mostly hosts black people it is a “reservation” for black people. So it seems that Simple's excitement of living in Harlem results more as a resignation rather than a personal choice. [...]
[...] And it is through this national identity that the power seems to be reversed: “They used to beat you head right in public, but know they only beat it after they get you down to the station house. And they don't beat it then if they think you know a coloured congressman” on lines 26-29. Simple is at the same level as white folks” as far as civil rights are concerned, he too is American and this is his national identity, his pride: “Elected by my own vote” on line 30. [...]
[...] “Harlem was undeniably a breakthrough for blacks”. II/ The issue of race within Harlem As we will show, race and place are intertwined in Toast to Harlem”. As a matter of fact place, that is to say the context of housing and dwelling, embodies the striking difference between those who own (the whites) and those who rent (the blacks), the haves and the have-nots. Colour and race Colour has a very important place in Toast to Harlem” and its link to race is no coincidence. [...]
[...] Boyd has idealized American society whereas Simple is fully aware of its breaches, and makes the difference between “stated practiced values.” Conclusion In conclusion we can say that place, race and identity are indissociable in the sense that the three work together: Harlem is the refuge of the African Diaspora, and although it is a city where African Americans are given opportunities to build a better life it is also a symbol of segregation because there is no racial interaction between blacks and whites. [...]
[...] III/ Forging an Identity In Toast to Harlem” race and identity are closely linked and almost fusion, indeed it is through colour that people defines their identity, but place also plays a major role as many countries the city (often, a city) represents the symbolic order of national identity.” A dual identity Simple in the description of his origins is quite confused himself, and he seems to struggle to explain to Boyd what he really is: an Indian or a coloured Indian or just a black person. [...]
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