The Theme Of Success In Langston Hughes' Poetry

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How does one attain success? There are numerous factors that influence how someone’s life turns out. One of the most important is belief. Belief is defined by Webster's dictionary as a state or habit of mind in which trust or confidence is placed in some person or thing. Over the course of some of his most popular poems, Langston Hughes highlights the three major components to achieving one’s goals. These three components are the belief that one has in themself, the belief someone important in their life has in them, and a society that allows them to achieve their dream. These poems are “Mother to Son”, “Dreams”, and “Let America be America Again”. No matter how smart or determined you are, chances are you will not succeed without believing in yourself and maintaining determination, or without someone who believes in you, or without a surrounding world that allows for you to achieve your goals. These three elements are essential to fulfilling your dreams. Langston Hughes provides hope to the marginalized population of people, specifically people of color who are not blessed with each of these three keys. In the perfect world, every young person grows up with all three of these elements in their lives, but Langston Hughes explains that this is not the case. While it is not impossible to break through and succeed without all of these keys, Langston Hughes shows through his poetry that they are extremely important.

A mother is one of the most important figures in one’s life, especially at a young age. Langston Hughes in his poem, “Mother to Son”, tells the story of a mother who emphasizes the importance of perseverance to her young son. This story is perhaps a reflection of Langston Hughes and the relationship he had with his own mother. Langston Hughes lived with his grandmother for the majority of his life, as his parents separated when he was young. He only rejoined his mother much later in his life, and lived with her for some time. In this poem Hughes tells the story of a son who is struggling to go through life and who wants to give up because of his fears and doubts. The son’s mother is trying to persuade him into sticking with it and continue living life. She uses her own experience to guide and prepare her son for what life holds, and she encourages him to keep going. The mother explains to her son that despite the difficulties and challenges that one faces, you cannot give up because you will regret it later in life. She uses a staircase as a metaphor, explaining to her son that even though it will not be easy, he must not stop climbing the steps of this staircase until he reaches the top. In this poem, Hughes highlights just how essential it is to have a loved one who encourages you and believes in you. Without it, life becomes harder and confidence becomes scarce.

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It is impossible to achieve your dreams if you yourself do not believe that you are capable of doing so. The confidence that your peers have in you will only get you so far. In “Dreams”, Langston Hughes encourages his readers to pursue their dreams, regardless of how outlandish they may appear. The poem encourages the reader to follow their dreams, because they never know what the future holds. Hughes explains that as you grow older you will deeply regret not pursuing your dreams, because who knows what you could have become had you not given up and sold yourself short. Dreams are a reflection of what someone is capable of achieving. Langston Hughes emphasizes the value of dreams. Not only do they gve people something to fight for, they are a reminder to always keep going, and they provide you with a purpose in life. Hughes states, 'Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that can not fly,' because once you let go of those dreams, you lose sight of what you want to get out of life. You need to dream so that everyday you wake up with a purpose. Hughes emphasizes the importance of having confidence in oneself. He explains that losing belief in yourself can lead you to not capitalizing on your potential, and instead down a path of remorse. Dream, despite its short length, has an extremely powerful message. This message is one of self-confidence and perseverance.

In Langston Hughes poem “Let America be America Again” he talks about how America should return to the way that it was perceived to be in the dreams before America was truly America. Hughes states that America is supposed to be a place of equality for everyone, a place where anyone can pursue their dreams. Unfortunately, America has failed to fulfill its promises as the land of opportunity. As a country, America has a history of belittling those who do not fit the majority. Whether it is slavery, rates of incarceration, or some other truth regarding racism or prejudice, people of color and the poor have not seen the same amount of opportunity as those a part of the wealthy, or the white. Hughes echoes these sentiments in many of his poems, and Let America be America Again is no different. What makes this poem special is the way that Hughes emphasizes just how necessary a society where any and everyone has a chance to succeed and do well is. While some are able to overcome the hardships that exist in this country, as did Langston Hughes, that is not the case for all. Thus, a free world in which one is given the opportunity and the resources they need to fulfill their dreams is all Hughes asks for in this poem. It is essential, as are the other two aforementioned keys to success.

In the book Langston Hughes: Critical Perspectives Past and Present, by Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, the authors dissect various works by Langston Hughes. Among these works is “Mother to Son”, where the authors attempt to explain the message that Hughes articulated through this poem. The authors make numerous connections between this poem and religion, racism, etc. However, the interpretation that stood out to the most was that the mother in this poem is telling her son that he must get to the top of a metaphorical staircase. At the top of this staircase is success, the fulfillment of one’s dreams and goals. According to this book, the mother explains to her son that “to get to the top, one must keep moving, cannot stop and sit” (137). This interpretation supports the idea that one of the most essential things to becoming successful in life is having someone important in their life who is willing to encourage and guide them. The mother has had her fair share of experiences and struggles, and thus her advice is extremely important to her son who is struggling to keep going.

While Langston Hughe’s messages on keys to success and belief apply to anyone, his poetry usually focuses on the experiences of black America. The reality is that in a country who’s history has shown a marginilization of minorities for so long, the ones who benefit from Hughe’s poems and words of encouragement the most are the very same people who experience oppression. In Critical Essays on Langston Hughes, Jemie Onwuchekwa explains that much of Langston Hughe’s poetry spoke to the ‘“low down folks, the so-called common element”’ (113). Poems such as Mother to Son, Dream, and Let America be America Again not only highlight the three major components to achieving your goals, they also act as the voice of the every-day, marginalized population. The population that for so long has been voiceless in this country.

Langston Hughes is easily one of the most impactful poets the world has ever seen, and while he lived a long time ago, his words still hold a lot of weight. He touched on many issues regarding race in this country, and was one of the first poets to see major success in doing so. Through his poems Mother to Son, Dream, and Let America be America Again, Langston Hughes emphasizes the three major keys to success. These keys are having someone in your life to guide you and believe in you, having belief in yourself and not giving up, and a society that grants you the opportunity to pursue your dreams. Unfortunately, as Hughes explains in his poetry, not everyone is blessed with all three of these keys or assets. However, Hughes is a prime example of someone who perhaps did not have all three keys but was still able to make something of himself. Through these works and many others, Langston Hughes acted as a voice for the voiceless minorities in this country, many of which lived each day without the belief that they can make something of themselves.

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