Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts
Mason, Theodore O.
This thesis explores the relationship between Hughes's use of humor and his concern with racial equality and American politics. Using Mikhail Bakhtin's analysis of the Carnival as a theoretical foundation, I analyze how Hughes's blues use articulation, subversion, and an ethic of "laughing to keep from crying" to cloak language of resistance. From here, I move to an examination of Hughes's jazz poetry and analyze the ways in which the author employs non-Western modalities, parody, and the Dozens to encode attacks on racism, poverty, and inequality. I conclude this section with a discussion of Hughes's Jesse B. Semple, noting a few of the ways in which the beloved everyman calls identity into question and encourages a celebration of folk wisdom in the political sphere. However, one cannot rely upon black humor to always engage political issues effectively. Revisiting the blues, jazz, and Simple, I show how Hughes's humor sometimes undermines an agenda of political and social equality, even as it affirms other facets of black culture. However, when one considers the work of contemporary comedians, one sees the effectiveness of Hughes's comedic model. His humorous writings still show how comedy questions and "plays" with issues of blackness in a way that other artistic forms cannot. Ultimately, Hughes's use of humor is a starting place for those hoping to more effectively engage audiences to think about identity formation and race today.
Ralsten, Johanna, "Laughing at what you haven't got when you ought to have it: Langston Hughes, black humor, and politics" (2009). Honors Theses. 15.