The Theme of Double Consciousness in the Poetry of Harlem Renaissance

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The theme of double consciousness pervades the poetry of the Harlem Renaissance. Reasons for expressing double-consciousness stem from historical, cultural, and psychological realities facing African-Americans realities that continue to define the sociocultural landscape in the United States. In Countee Cullen's poem "Heritage," the opening line is "What is Africa to me?" The narrator ponders what it means to be of African heritage, especially given the astounding number of generations separating ancestral ties from life in twentieth century America. Moreover, slavery tore apart families and communities, rendering African identity into a fragmented entity and African-American identity even more inchoate. The Harlem Renaissance represented a revolutionary shift in the way that the sons, grandsons, daughters, and granddaughters of slaves begun to conceptualize the African-American culture. African-American identity is naturally one of double- or even multiple-consciousness, and this consciousness is conveyed throughout the literature of the Harlem Renaissance. Although there are a host of Harlem Renaissance-era writers whose autograph I would like to have, Langston Hughes would be the most personally appealing. Hughes was instrumental in shaping the African-American identity. Hughes helped inspire his generation and subsequent generations to resist the dominant culture and instead value what it means to be an African-American. As Stanway (n.d.) points out, Hughes "urges

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