Degrees of Transcendence: Opposing Views by McKay and Hughes on the Consumption of Art

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Writing during the emergence of the “New Negro” movement, Claude McKay and Langston Hughes work to reconcile black life in white America. The trope used by the two poets within “The Harlem Dancer” and “The Weary Blues” is that of a performance and a single speaker’s recollection of it. While both depict an African-American performer presumably consumed by the isolation and oppression of their condition, the intensity of the performances prove to be vastly disparate. Hughes’ “The Weary Blues” features a much more transcendent performance than that of McKay’s “The Harlem Dancer” not only because of the relationship between the audience and the performer, but the degree of ubiquity in descriptions of the performer and the poetic form through…show more content…
Amongst the judgmental stares of the audience that has bestowed an image of pathetic vulnerability upon the dancer, the poem’s speaker emerges to provide a portrait of the dancer that is much less lascivious, acknowledging that “Her voice was like the sound of blended flutes / Blown by black players upon a picnic day” (3-4). The sudden juxtaposition of a “picnic day” vis-a-vis a crowded night-club highlights the speakers attempt to remove the sexualized image of the dancer with the intent of identifying her noble power as a member of the black community. The elegance of the dancer, recognized by her soft voice, is affirmed by the speaker’s specific mention of “black players,” displaying black heritage as containing multi-faceted artistic potential. While the poem begins with a dehumanizing portrayal of the dancer, the speaker successfully reformulates the identity of the dancer into a component of a larger black tradition. While the speaker has succeeded in providing an enhanced image of the performer, the act of assigning meaning to the performance and the representation used holds the capacity to limit the experience. As the speaker continues to reconfigure her strip tease into a “[graceful] and calm” artistic dance, he makes a simultaneous attempt to distance himself from the crowd, making no mention of his gender or race directly (5). However, the speaker’s attempt to portray the dancer from objective eyes falters as his

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