The Harlem Renaissance: Poverty And Desperation

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Humans have the trend to incline positivity over negativity; this is a trait used by humans. The human prejudice for positivity influences different types of subjects, consisting of how literary critics and historians depict the Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance, in The Norton Introduction to Literature by professors Mays and Booth, is described as “duration of ten or fifteen years in the early twenty century when an exceptional group of individuals celebrated the emergence of a new African-American awareness.” The Harlem Renaissance is outlined by the use of several wordings and terms in various reliable sources; nevertheless, a major similarity appears when analyzing these descriptions. The correspondence is they only display the positive implications of the movement. These descriptions fail to highlight the desperation as well as struggles, which the working-class and poor residents of other African-American communities and Harlem encountered in the cultural movement. Harlem, while looking after some wealthy African-Americans, was “concurrently home to disease-ridden poverty and slums.” There is no more precise representation of the serious financial troubles of African-Americans in that time than the poems inscribed by Harlem Renaissance writers, like Countee Cullen and Langston Hughes. Prevalent economic flux throughout and preceding up to the Harlem Renaissance can be seen through the operations of literature by African-American writers.

With many African-Americans moving to the North after World War I, artistic and cultural impacts from the black communities became inevitable. These were particularly true in Harlem, where more than 100,000 African-Americans chose to stay after their shift and was an “infectious, independent, creative, and distinctive center of performance and art and activities, which pulled the entire of New York to it.” The two authors define Harlem in an extravagant, positive way, declaring that it was an “attraction for new whites.’ Even though their declarations in regards to the presence of entertainment facilities such as nightclubs are correct, the writers flop to trace the issue of crime and poverty, which turned to be dominant in Harlem. For instance, according to a well-known historian at Harvard University, “there existed futility, unemployment, and poverty in Harlem; however, the optimist and happiness of the 1920s enhanced the image of such types of realities.’ Scholars, as well as Historians, mainly concentrate on critical elements of the Harlem Renaissance. These signify that there is undoubtedly a prejudice for more fruitful, known elites and writers like Hughes and Langston. It is reasonable to concentrate on fewer individuals that had significant responsibilities in the movement; nonetheless, it is critical to allow attention to the residents of the Harlem Renaissance. Overemphasizing the lifestyles of Harlem occupants because of the glamorous and prosperous life of a few people shows an imprecise image of how Harlem was in the event of the movement.

The lives of the regular Harlem Residents varied from the expensive lifestyles showcased in books and other legendary sources. Because of the presence of discrimination and prejudice, the African-Americans were only capable of attaining the most tiring, low-paying work. According to Professor Dr. Jeffrey Ogbar, of the University of Kansas, 16.6% of Harlem occupants were receiving as little as $75 monthly, 25 percent, below the income rate of being considered inferior. Moreover, many Harlem residents were earning between $75 and $124, which is less than the $133 minimum needed to sustain a comfortable lifestyle. The financial struggles of Harlem residents are seen in, This Harlem Life: Everyday Life and Black Families in the 1920s and 1930s, an analysis of five ordinary families who lived in Harlem in the Harlem Renaissance. For instance, one of the family solely depended on the children’s income for survival. “Thompson had stated that it is his two teenage kids who sustained the family. George had acquired a spot in a dressmaking company, and later on, he became a scarf maker, while Elizabeth, his sister was working in a hat factory. Both of the children gave all their salaries to the household. Their parents, who only did day jobs instead of having stable careers, had to make their kids look for employment after finding no work. This type of financial trouble was usual among the resident of Harlem, with a lot of people being unable to locate a permanent job because of racial discrimination.

Likewise, the reality was that the residents of Harlem typically stayed in expensive but substandard housing; many people operated in demanding and low-paying jobs; several of the businesses, comprising of at least almost of Harlem’s clubs, were possessed by white people.”

The best description of poverty is highlighted by Countee Cullen’s broadly commended poem “Saturday’s Child” which is founded on the famous nursery song “the Saturday’s kid works hard for a living.” This poem, through scholarly tools and interest in emotion, efficiently compares a child who is born into a low-income family with the one born into a wealthy family. “The initial sign of financial hardship starts at the first stanza, where Countee outlines:

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Some are teethed on a silver spoon,

With the stars strung for a rattle;

I cut my teeth as the black raccoon-

For implements of battle (1-4)

The initial two lines show the child born into a wealthy family, with the silver spoon being a symbol of wealth. In addition, the third and fourth lines highlight the struggles the child born into a low-income family will have to endure; the child is preparing the weapon (teeth) for future battles. Cullen’s discontent and spite can be deduced through the lines. Besides, Cullen illustrates that “Dame Poverty gave me my name, /and Pain godfathered me”. These lines clearly show the resentment brought out by the author concerning poverty. Being born and raised by a “poor” mother, Cullen expresses his despair and anger through an unlucky interpretation of what the majority of the African-American children endure after being born in a ‘poverty-stricken’ home.

Because of absolute levels of poverty, low-income families treat their children as expensive irritants. It is oil-starred that poverty can influence what should be a solid, relationship between a child and the parent; nonetheless, this was the harsh reality faced by several families in Harlem.

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