Langston Hughes and The Harlem Renaissance

Renowned individuals often follow their first dreams from their childhood, demonstrating proficiency in a particular field of interest – not Langston Hughes. Hughes was born on February 1, 1902 and passed away on May 22, 1967, and aspired to be a mining engineer. His full name was James Mercer Langston Hughes. However, his legacy as an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist still resonates with modern society. Hughes published his first poem in 1912. Interestingly, he was of mixed race; his grandmother appeared to be of Indian descent, and other parts of his family were of different ethnicity and race. That being said, Langston Hughes was a poet who often shared his racial convictions, yet, race ultimately did not influence his writing significantly, if at all. In fact, to Hughes, “it has seemed to me that most people are generally good, in every race and in every country where I have been.” No matter what the surrounding milieu thought about him, he refused to let race influence his work. Hughes’ racially diverse ethnicity shaped his character into an individual that ultimately fought for African American equality through his literary works.


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PQP = Praise, Question, Polish.

peerreviewOne of the most essential parts of building a productive atmosphere for learning in any classroom is sharing what you learn. Another is giving and receiving useful feedback. The most important thing is to do this in a positive spirit. With that in mind, we must give feedback on each other’s work in a useful and kind way (remember the class motto?). So, moving forward, please be an active agent in creating a more positive and productive learning environment.

We’ll follow these these PQP steps when we comment on each other’s blog posts. To start, let’s have everyone make at least one sentence for praising the post, one sentence for poising a question about the post, and one sentence for suggesting how to polish the ideas in the overall post (which include text and complementing media). Feel free to write more than this amount. Also be mindful that a good blog post has media the complements the prose and the proper categories and tags are selected (and “uncategorized” is de-selected). Most importantly, compose your comments in Standard English. Stay positive!

Some links for more learning on the topic:

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The Last Supper, But Certainly Not The Last

Just as Thomas Foster argues, meals are always mentioned in novels for a reason, never just to sit down and eat. In the Bible, The Last Supper is that last time that Jesus sits down for a meal with his Apostles. He gives them bread telling the Apostles that it is his body, symbolic of his crucifixion in the coming days in which he literally gives up his body for the sins of the people. Jesus is the prophet in this case, saving his people. The most famous depiction of this night at the table is Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of the evening.Last-Supper-Copy-16th-CenturyThis painting shows all of the men on the same side of the table, a very unusual set-up, possibly for artistic purpose and possibly to show that the table is open for all who wish to sit at it. In Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown, the prophet appears as the man who meets Goodman Brown in the forest with the serpent walking stick. Just as Jesus is known to have once walked on the Earth as an average man, this man symbolizes a man sent from God to bring Goodman Brown to his faith, in other words, a prophet representing Jesus. It is obvious that this man is a prophet of sorts because his stick is a serpent, a symbol of evil in many religions and in the Bible. This critical Bible moment, the Last Supper, also influences Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, as Jim helps to lead Huck through his hard times and absent father figures. Jim and Tom also spend a lot of time on the raft together, literally getting them through daily life, just as important as a meal is in the Bible. The raft is similar to a dinner setting in that it is very intimate. The difference is that on the raft they are fighting for their lives; however, it is similar to a meal in which bonds are tested and formed. Jim may be considered a prophet of sorts as he passes on his superstitions and beliefs to Huck and serves as a mentor, even though at first he comes off as a poor slave. During the Last Supper, Jesus foreshadows that Peter will turn against him and pretend as if he never knew Jesus. In literature, meals are often utilized to reveal vital information that can change the plot. Meals reveal intricate family dynamics and interactions, and usually family news comes out at the dinner table. In the play, The Death of a Salesman, the meal between Willy and his sons, Biff and Happy, is a critical plot component. It is during the meal that it is revealed that Willy has lost his job and that not only is Biff unable to receive help from Oliver, but also, he finally tells his father that he was never a salesman for him. This meal is a turning point in the plot of this play and it brings out the truth from all of the characters. Each character leaves the table with a better understanding of their family members. The Last Supper signifies the meaning behind these historic motifs in literature and influences American literature throughout all of its phases.


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Noah’s Perseverance​ on His Ark


Hannah Emmett’s watercolor depiction of Noah’s Ark

Noah’s Ark and The Flood continues to be one of the most commonly told biblical stories today. The passage demonstrates the importance of perseverance, a motif and a lesson that continually appear in literary works of merit throughout multiple centuries, as well as art. The central concept of perseverance is prevalent in Noah’s Ark because of the isolation and harsh conditions that he and his family endured. The watercolor painting created by Hannah Emmett demonstrates this idea of perseveres by her use of cool tones and harsh lines. She also separates Noah, making the isolation he would have felt distinct and powerful. This motif of perseverance is also evident in many works of literary merit. In the era of romanticism, The Scarlet Letter, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, demonstrates perseverance when Hester Prynne must persist through the hardship her community evokes on her after her sins are revealed. Her community casts her aside, making her an outcast on the outskirts of town, something relevant to Noah because of the isolation he and his family experienced on the ark. During the era of realism, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, written by Mark Twain, also exemplifies the motif of perseverance in a few different ways. The most prominent example is Huck’s journey on the raft down the Mississippi River when he and Jim must survive on only the bare necessities. While Noah had access to family and food, he was also stranded on a boat for months, living off of only what they had limited access to. For the era of modernism, perseverance is prevalent in The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This novel contains a key example of perseverance when after meeting Daisy for the first time, all of Gatsby’s actions prove to have one central objective, to win her over. However, money becomes a deciding factor between the two of them and their relationship. Gatsby perseveres after his loss of the woman he loves and continues to do so until he is as successful as he possibly can be. The Great Gatsby also demonstrates the power that isolation can have over a character. Nick feels as though he is floating through a sea of people as a passive observer, almost like Noah alone on his Ark. These three examples of works of literary merit, in addition to Hannah Emmett’s painting, all represent the importance of perseverance throughout the bible story of Noah’s Ark and The Flood.


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Garden of Edenville, Michigan

Satan entering the Garden

Illustration from Paradise Lost by Gustave Dore

In the book of Genesis, God creates the first man and women and places them in a utopia called the Garden of Eden. This garden is perfect in every way; Adam, the first man, and Eve, the first women, live in want of nothing. They never age, they’ll never go hungry, they live in perfect bliss. God tells them that they could live forever in this utopia he has created for them under one condition, they do not eat the Forbidden Fruit. This is the test. Eventually Satan, the antagonist of the text, tempts Eve to into eating the Forbidden Fruit. Because of this transgression, Adam and Eve are cast out of the Garden and away from God, mortal on Earth. Adam and Eve fail the test because Satan convinces them to give into temptation, and go against God. In Romanticism, we see many allusions to the Garden test. For example, in “Young Goodman Brown”, we see Goodman Brown come across a man with walking stick carved as a serpent, a clear allusion to Satan in the Garden. The man offers Brown the staff twice, a symbol of the devil tempting Brown as he did Eve, to which Brown firstly refuses, but eventually gives in, just as Eve does. Additionally, in Realism we see examples of the Garden Test, such as in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, specifically when we see Huck give into the temptation of hiding Jim in from the Bounty Hunters, a decision which, at the time, is considered a grave sin. Finally, we see Garden Test allusions in Modernism as well. For example, in “The Awakening”, we follow a man and a woman in love, struggling against temptation utopian island, a very clear allusion to the story of The Garden of Eden.


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The Ten Commandments and One More

The Ten Commandments can be seen as a covenant with God and as rules for life. In this bible story, they were able to have a “covenant with God” similarly as Hester’s town did in Massachusetts in The Scarlet Letter. The Ten Commandments can be seen as God’s everlasting covenant. This painting by Rembrandt van Rijn, depicts Moses holding the tablets. This painting is illustrating the Commandments on the tablet, which again, can be seen as covenants of God. This is considered one of the most authentically Jewish pieces of art ever created. This is interesting because even though the specific bible stories I am speaking about are from the Bible, many stories overlap and this illuminates the idea that religion is different, but also very similar.

One book that is Romanticism is The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The setting is in a New England Puritan town and the Puritans had a covenant with God about their New World adventure. Also, in their new town, they are finally able to practice religion freely. With this in mind, Hester’s branding of an A, because of their strict religious beliefs, should have been no surprise. Through the covenant in their town with god, Adultery was a major sin; therefore when Hester was found guilty of it, she was cast as an outsider. The rumored meteor that fell in the shape of a letter “A”, could be considered as God’s covenant. In many of the townspeople’s eyes, it is a reminded and a promise from God that Winthrop is going to heaven and that the “A” stands for Angel. In Dimmesdale’s eyes, he sees it as his own personal “A” for adultery just as Hester has. Either way, although there are many interpretations, the “A” can be seen as a sign and covenant from God promising that Winthrop will be taken care of and is going to heaven, or a covenant that yes, Dimmesdale did do something wrong and there are consequences.

Another book is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain. In this Realism book, one passage that clearly stands out is when Tom says, “Now, we’ll start this band of robbers and call it Tom Sawyer’s Gang. Everybody that wants to join has got to take an oath, and write his name in blood”. This quote illustrates the idea that they want people to swear their loyalty to each other, even if that means offering their own blood as promise. With this in mind, Tom and Huck see a need for a covenant in their friendship. They make a covenant together that they’ll always be there for each other. This relates back to both the Ten Commandments and The Scarlet Letter, where they both have “covenants” with god. In this instance, they have a covenant among each other.

Lastly, in The Great Gatsby, a modernism novel, the main characters consistently break the Ten Commandments. Going along with the Modernism of the book, meaning a concise break from the usual and common writing. This is ironic because The Great Gatsby has thematic ideas of each character going against what religion has taught the, which was a big part of the American Dream back then. For instance, the first commandment says that no one should have any other god or someone they worship except for God himself. This could be considered broken by Gatsby because he idolizes and worships Daisy tremendously. Their lacking the covenant that most have with God when they follow the Ten Commandments and Christianity.

Connecting this back to the Bible, Noah’s Ark also has a God’s covenant in it. The Rainbow can be seen as God’s covenant. When they finally came to land, God put a rainbow in the sky as a sign of God’s covenant that he will never use flooding again to cleanse the Earth (destroy mankind). Further, God continues to make covenants with men including Abram, Moses, David, and many others. God’s covenants are very forthcoming through out the Bible, whether it be a sign such as the rainbow or it be explicitly said that there is a covenant.


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Christ Figures: Styles of American Literature at a Crossroads



Michelangelo’s Pietà: A sculpture in the Vatican depicting Mary holding Jesus after the crucifixion

The basis of the crucifixion motif in American literature is in the creation of a Christ figure through physical or social sacrifice. Such sacrifice can be seen in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s, The Scarlet Letter when Hester Pryne is forced to stand atop scaffolding for three hours while dawning the scarlet A. Hester is made an exile in society for, like Christ, the sins of others. Although Dimmesdale is equally culpable for Pearl’s birth out of wed lock, Hester alone feels the consequences. Pearl’s acceptance into affluent society after Hester’s death is another example of how Hester’s societal sacrifice, similar to Christ’s, benefitted those whom she looked after during her lifetime. In the realm of realism, the crucifixion is seen in Mark Twain’s novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn when Huck claims he is going to hell for choosing to help Jim escape slavery. In this case, Huck not only refers to the biblical hell, but also to the possibility that he will be condemned by society for choosing a morally unpopular, but personally just course of action. In doing so, Huck submits to the possibility of cultural sacrifice, in order to fight for the oppressed.  Crucifixion is seen in modernism in Earnest Hemingway’s story, The Old Man and the Sea, when Santiago carries his own mast into town after his fight with the Marlin. The fisherman’s bloodied hands and cross carrying are obvious examples of bible imagery. By having Santiago’s physical state mirror Christ’s state on the cross, Hemingway broadens the meaning of his story to biblical proportion, and intensifies Santiago’s struggle with the Marlin. By including Christ figures in their work, American authors of many styles create tension by connecting their characters’ sacrifices to the greatest literary sacrifice of all time: the crucifixion.


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Crucifixion In Literature

The crucifixion of Jesus is one of the most important motifs that is handled in the Bible. Crucifixion is often related to sacrifice of an individual to protect others from their sins or guilt. Many authors allude to crucifixion to enhance the meanings of their literary work. The most famous example is The Scarlet Letter: Nathaniel Hawthorne employs Hester, a character who is publicly accused of adultery, to create the image similar to that of Jesus’ crucifixion. Hester sacrifices herself to cover Dimmesdale’s sin and protect his reputation. Townspeople, completely unaware of Dimmesdale’s sin, publicly ostracize her and highly respect Dimmesdale. This is identical to the accusation of Jesus and support of Barabbas by the Jews before his crucifixion. Likewise, Hester keeps her daughter Pearl and wears the letter A, which shows her determination to take the responsibility for her sin. Hester says, “‘God gave her into my keeping…I will not give her up!'” This line demonstrates Hester’s determination to keep her daughter and live up to her sin. In addition to The Scarlet Letter, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, also includes an allusion to crucifixion. The scene when Huck says “all right then, I’ll go to hell” after deciding that he would save Jim instead of sending a letter to Miss Watson, generates an image similar to that of Jesus’ sacrifice to carry the sins and die for the Jews to save them. Moreover, in The Great Gatsby, Gatsby takes the blame of hitting Myrtle with his car instead of revealing the truth that Daisy was driving the car. Later on, he gets shot by Wilson and is forever blamed, while Daisy and Tom run away. Gatsby’s sacrifice resulting from his will to protect his love is another example of a biblical allusion to the crucifixion of Jesus.

christ crucified

Along with authors, many painters have used the crucifixion as the theme of their paintings. For instance, the painting called Christ Crucified by Diego Velazquez realistically depicts the scene of Jesus being crucified. Velazquez’s vivid description of blood delivers the brutality of the circumstance whereas the black background concentrates the attention to the cross and Jesus, thus delivering the memorable scene. His art plays a big role in showing the sacrifice and the death of Jesus, which is often alluded to or employed as a symbol in literary pieces.


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Water and Rebirth in Literature


Jesus’ Baptism

Water is a very important literary motif that can represent many different things. However, one of its most significant connotations in literature is baptism and rebirth. In the Bible story about John the Baptist, the water motif symbolizes Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. The image to the left depicts this Bible story and further shows the prevalence of the water motif. The water motif is clearly present here because it runs through the middle of the picture and is also being poured onto Jesus’ head. The dove flying above Jesus symbolizes the Holy Spirit, which God sends down from Heaven after Jesus is baptized. The ray of light shining on Jesus is from Heaven and, along with the dove, reveals Jesus’ rebirth as “the son of God” (Luke 3.38). The water motif, just as it is used in the Bible story of Jesus’ baptism, is also used in The Scarlet Letter, The Awakening, and The Great Gatsby in order to represent rebirth. In The Scarlet Letter, a work of literary romanticism, Hester Prynne throws the scarlet letter towards the water’s edge and “with a hand’s breadth farther flight it would have fallen into the water” (536). When Hester is rid of the scarlet letter, she feels the “burden of shame and anguish [depart] from her spirit” (536), she feels “freedom” (536), and “as with a sudden smile of heaven, forth burst the sunshine” (536), just like when Jesus gets baptized and the heavens open up above him. In this scene, the water acts as a threshold and shows how Hester is so close to being fully reborn; however, she cannot completely escape the symbol of her sin. In The Awakening, a work of realism, the water motif in the form of rebirth is apparent when Edna stands naked on the beach and feels “like some new-born creature” (638). “The waves . . . invited her” (638) to be reborn as a free being who escapes being “chained” (639) to her old life through death. In The Great Gatsby, a work of literary modernism, Gatsby spends the summer yachting on Lake Superior and around the world with Dan Cody. The water motif is present here because Lake Superior, in a way, baptizes “James Gatz” (98) and causes him to be reborn as “Jay Gatsby” (98), “a son of God” (98). The element of rebirth in literature usually corresponds with the water motif because of the Bible story when Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist and is reborn in the eyes of God.…/5d730f2562651efddddd2783e190d096–jesus-is-lord-my-lord.jpg


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Considered by many to be one of the finest men to ever live, The Father of The Faithful


The prophet Abraham

Abraham in the Bible is a story of faith throughout trial, tribulation and doubt. Abraham’s life gives truth and value to the commonly uttered Catholic phrase, “the mystery of faith,” which begs for action upon faith, although unseen. Genesis 22, named Abraham’s Faith Confirmed, describes a God given test to the prophet. Asked by God to take Issac, his only son, to a mountain in order to sacrifice him, Abraham obliged. Following God’s every command, Abraham proceeded with the test, passing only because of his undying trust in God. Because of this brutal test, Abraham has become the most well-known prophet.

The Bible lacks character development on Abram. Simply, it gives a brief genealogy, followed by his direct contact with God. Like Jesus and his disciples, Abram’s first task was to “go.” Without receiving a real answer as to where, he went. Abram’s encounter with the one true God exceeded any verbal explanation. Here, the literary “hero’s journey” was first seen.

Wavering at times, God continually pushed Abram back onto the correct path. In a battle between choosing to believe or not, Abram embodies all of the moral virtues packed into religion.

Abraham’s test can be found in Bartelby, The Scrivener, where Bartelby is tested by society. When he is found wavering, he is pulled back onto the correct path by the narrator, although not explicitly stated. For example, when Bartelby insisted on saying “I would prefer not to,” the narrator allowed him to maintain that stance. In doing this, Bartelby was able to find peace within himself. As a matter of fact, many comparisons between the narrator to God and Bartleby to Abraham can be found. At the core, the narrator has an odd, sympathetic love towards Bartleby, closely resembling God’s relationship with Abraham. Ultimately, Bartelby dies in the company of the only person who loves him, the unnamed narrator. This is akin to Abraham’s death in Genesis 25, where God is the only loving observer. Abraham’s story also relates to Hester Prynne’s test in The Scarlet Letter, where her entire life revolves around being tested by her society. This is embodied by the “A” that in the beginning, she hated, but eventually came to accept as part of her identity.

Tests appear in The Adventures Huck Finn in the main themes of racism and slavery, the hypocrisy of “civilized” society, and the questionable importance of education. Huck says numerous times that he would prefer to “go to hell” instead of following the rules society teaches, which is an interesting comparison to Abraham. With a common goal, both Huck Finn and Abraham work against the grain to prove their exceptional personalities.

James Joyce’s The Dead is an excellent example of Biblical themes present in modernist writing. The Dead, as evident by the title, deals with death as a very prominent symbol. The main characters are named Gabriel and Michael, two powerful archangels. Gabriel, like Abraham, is immortalized because of his incredible ability to spread the word of God and his son, Jesus. Gabriel, a direct literary descendent of the archangel, is related closely to Abraham as a prophet. The whole of The Dead can be seen a test, where James Joyce declares that Ireland failed their test to enter modern society. Holding the Catholic Church and their dogma responsible, Joyce represents the clergymen as “sleeping in their coffins,” symbolizing them as truly “the walking dead.” In Gabriel’s personal test, his famous after dinner speech, Joyce’s criticism shines through the page once again.

dinner scene.jpeg

The dinner scene

Gabriel tested the audience through his speech, asking them to see their flaws and then act upon them. Again, Gabriel in the story drew inspiration from Gabriel the angel, whose sole objective was to spread the good word of God.


Gabriel the archangel

Sources: Abraham image, Gabriel


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