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Place, race and identity in Langston Hughes’ "A Toast to Harlem"

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  1. Introduction.
  2. Harlem in terms of place in the early twentieth century.
    1. Harlem as a 'Reservation'.
    2. Harlem as a refuge for the African Diaspora.
  3. The issue of race within Harlem.
    1. Colour and race.
    2. Simple as the embodiment of the typical Harlemite.
  4. Forging an identity.
    1. A dual identity.
    2. Boyd, Simple and identity.
  5. Conclusion.
  6. Bibliography.

?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. [...]


[...] Our study will be three fold, in a first part we will see how Harlem is referred to in terms of place, then we will focus on the issue of race within the city and eventually we will show how hard it is to build one's identity within a racist society. Harlem in terms of Place As we know Harlem wasn't meant to be peopled by Black Americans but since the houses that had been built remained vacant, white people had no other choice than accepting to rent their houses to Black Americans (only those who could afford it since the prices were high). [...]

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