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The Harlem Renaissance: Origins, Characteristics, And Significance (Essay Sample)


The Harlem Renaissance: origins, characteristics, and significance

THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE: ORIGINS, CHARACTERISTICS, AND SIGNIFICANCE Name of Author Institutional Affiliation Date of Submission Believed to have originated in 1918 and spanned across the 1920s and early 1930s in Harlem, The Harlem Renaissance defines the prominent revitalization of the arts performances and productions by African-Americans at the time. Characteristically, it represented a new robust disposition of cultural expressions, social interactions, artistic enthusiasm that would later turn into an enormous movement that transformed divergent ideas on music, race, modernism, literature, slavery, socialism, and Pan-Africanism among other topics affecting African-Americans’ ways of life. Again, this movement would expand to influence African-Americans internationally in Paris and other locations. Also referred to as the New Negro Movement, the Negro Renaissance, and the Jazz Age, this movement remains significant in the history of African-Americans and other Americans because it redefined the social position of African-Americans in the society, helped them develop an independent spirit, stimulated a great participation in art and literature, and conjoined the African-American revolutionary spirit with the American Dream.[. Sherrard-Johnson, Cherene. A Companion to the Harlem Renaissance (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2015), 6.] An Overview of the Harlem Renaissance Typically, definers of the Harlem Renaissance identify the period with activities like the existence of late-night clubs, unlimited partying, the fancy of jazz music all over the place, and the beauty of trendy clothes in New York City’s Harlem. However, the wholesome description of the renaissance goes beyond the fancy party life. Instead, it defines a literary movement whose effect was overwhelmingly astounding and most of whose shindigs and jamborees contained serious artists, writers, and intellectuals from both the black and white communities with dominations of the former. Some examples of these include Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and W.E.B. Dubois among others. Markedly, the intellectual and literary effects of these writers have travelled across decades and some of their texts are still studied as major writings in high schools, colleges, and universities across the world today. Viewed as the creation of the African American Literary Space the renaissance identifies a time when African American literature defined its social position and established an independent spirit. Considering the fact that the period of the renaissance was not long after the abolishment of slavery and slave trade, assisting African Americans to achieve the great limits of expressionism and creating the spirit of identity remains an element to celebrate and be proud of.[. Ibid., 12.] The Relevance of the Harlem Renaissance The achievements of the Harlem Renaissance on arts and literature remain the most defining features of its relevance to the American society of 1920s and 1930s as well as the contemporary one. The most amazing of this was how the African American society, which was previously enslaved, illiterate, and considered backward travelled into a free literary, intellectual, and high spirited position in less than fifty years. Functionally, the period of the renaissance may appear to be ancient as it is almost a century old. Nonetheless, many ideas raised in the renaissance remain relevant to modern literature and academia. Examples of these encompass the ‘twoness’ of the misunderstood teenager by DuBois and the adoption and redefinition of the concept of self-governance by Marcus Garvey for the African American community.[. Ibid., 17.] Perhaps, the most relevant contribution of the Harlem renaissance to the development of African American culture and artistry lay on its establishment of various organizations. The most conspicuous among these were the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Urban League (NUL). Other than supporting the activities of African Americans and creating for them platforms to express themselves, these organizations laid a foundation for the development of this culture in music, art, and literature. The ultimate outcome of the renaissance is witnessed decades later in a richer, more interesting, and complex exposition of the African American in his participation and contribution to the spirit of the renaissance and the American Dream.[. Gates, Henry L, and Evelyn B. Higginbotham. Harlem Renaissance Lives from the African American National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 86.] Characteristics of the Harlem Renaissance Various transformative and thematic ideas travelled across the streets of Harlem and other places to build the culture that would later be called the Harlem Renaissance. Most commonly, the subjects of these discussions were based on divergent aspects of historical and contemporary African American experiences. Using romantic poetry and the experimentation of new rhythms, like jazz and be-bop, the renaissance achieved an overwhelming influence on the composition of gospel hymns, secular music including slave songs and blues, and the enrichment of African American oral tradition, especially traditional poetry. The most featuring themes encompassed resistance, oppression, creative expression, intellectualism, and racial identity among others. These ideas were represented in the characteristics of the Jazz age, modernism, the Great Migration, “racial division”, the “New Negro”, socialism, and Pan-Africanism.[. Ibid., 4.] The Jazz Age and the Harlem Renaissance The Jazz age stands out as one of the leading defining moments of the Harlem Renaissance. Admittedly, it is not possible to define the Jazz age independently and differentiate its artistic and musical medium from the practices, and artistic trends of the writers of the Harlem Renaissance. In all, it was among the leading thought formation processes that influenced the way and the content people thought, spoke, and wrote during the Harlem Renaissance. Hence, the origin of jazz as an African American musical genre simultaneously gave African writers the opportunities to interact with its stimulating ability to the extent they even got involved in it at times. Examples of such involvement can be drawn from the works of Langston Hughes, W.E.B. Du Bois, James Weldon, and Scott Fitzgerald.[. Pochmara, Anna. The Making of the New Negro: Black Authorship, Masculinity, and Sexuality in the Harlem Renaissance (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2011), 121.] Langston’s involvement with Jazz in writing was to the extent he incorporated his epic poetry into Jazz with the two stimulating one another in rhythm and sensational creative artistry. This is perhaps the reason he wrote a whole epic poem called "Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz" that was mainly based on the art of Jazz. Bu Bois also indulged in the usage of Jazz for his writing. As for Fitzgerald, his involvement with Jazz doesn’t occur during the Jazz age, but the influences of this age are so evident in his works of The Great Gatsby to the extent in cannot be disputed that the age influenced his thinking and approach to writing. Perhaps, the clearest evidence of the involvement of the Jazz age and the Harlem Renaissance can be drawn from James Weldon who was a renowned Harlem Renaissance writer, who personally involved in the composition, singing, and performance of Jazz music.[. Ibid., 128.] Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance By definition, the term modernism implies the disposition of contemporary characteristics, techniques, and ways of expression that tend to break away from classical ones through the use of philosophies and fashionable trends. In general, it usually occurs in the form of an involuntary move that modifies traditional ideas and beliefs to suit contemporary times and expressions.[. Mullen, Bill, and James Smethurst. Left of the Color Line: Race, Radicalism, and Twentieth-Century Literature of the United States (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012), 14.] Evidently, the rejuvenating spirit of the Harlem Renaissance remained elementary in the theme of modernism. There was clearly a birth of modern views in politics, literature and the social way of life. Before the renaissance, the great depression, slavery, and an oppressed form of the African American life had dominated the African American population. Most of the people were disheartened and disillusioned. With the rise of the renaissance, these peoples invented modern ways of expressing their thoughts and advocating for their needs. To a large extent, modernism in the spirit of Harlem Renaissance was representative of the contemporary response to changing times which involved changing classical values and adapting them into modern ones.[. Ibid., 21.] The Great Migration and the Harlem Renaissance The Great Migration also remains one of the most important elements that facilitated the rise of the Harlem Renaissance in various ways. Within the context of the Great Migration lies topics like the Civil War and slavery. These two were the main reasons most African Americans had to flee the South towards the North, a migration that would ultimately land most of them in Harlem and other parts on New York as well as other Northern cities. Other causes of the Great Migration were stemmed on the fact that numerous labor and employment opportunities sprang in the North alongside favorable environments that would allow African Americans the chances to thrive socially, artistically, and economically. Coupled with hostilities in the South, the war and slavery made many African Americans flee to the North and enhance the spirit of the renaissance.[. Ibid., 40.] Giving job opportunities to the immigrants gave them the economic capacity to drive the spirit of the renaissance. Giving them freedom allowed incre...
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