Langston Hughes: Poems

The Heterogeneity of African American Identity in the Poetry of Langston Hughes and Zadie Smith’s On Beauty College

Homogenous identity bears its attraction in its promise of unity. By defining identity in terms of ethnicity and nationality, one feels that they are part of a community. A shared race, culture and geographical space often creates the sense of common purpose among groups of people. In turn, the idea of this common experience creates a basis of stability on which to act out relationships with others and also how to understand The Self. However, because identity, as argued by postmodernist deconstruction and postcolonial theory, is formed and transformed continuously in relation to the ways in which one is represented or addressed in the cultural systems which surround them, it can never fulfil this promise of stability. Stuart Hall suggests that the process of identification is conducted through antagonism, which always entails splitting (42). These inevitable divisions reveal the disconcerting reality that the adherence to labels means ‘one is next door to being nothing and therefore not being at all’. This idea of instability, hybridity and rupture within identity is explored in both the poetry of Langston Hughes and in Zadie Smith’s novel On Beauty. The texts highlight the economic, socio-political and cross-cultural factors...

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