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Sunday, November 3, 2013



Langston Hughes, the Afro-American poet, was one among a few who sowed the seeds of Black Literary Renaissance namely Harlem Renaissance in Africa.  His poems present his miserable life in America.
The poem As I Grew Older is the self-expression of a black American who is destined to live under the shadow of whites in America.  Through this poem the poet aims to define the cultural identity of Blacks in America.
The poem is autobiographical in tone and it can be treated as a mirror to the life of Black Americans.  The poet too had gone through the bitter experiences of living as a Black American.
The poem puts across the strong message of social protest against the inequalities of our society.  It is a socially relevant poem as it stands close to social reality.
The poem can be visualized as a transition from infancy, the early phase of life to the stage of late life or the mature stage of life.  The poem begins with the freshness, innocence, optimism and purity of childhood.  When the poet was young, he was not conscious about the world outside him.  He was just starting to take off his wings and fly with his hope and aspirations of future.  But his dreams were crushed.  The repetitive mode of the poem is significant here.  The word ‘slowly’ is repeated several times and it was a gradual realization for him that he was ‘black’ and therefore denied everything in life.  Slowly he succumbs to his fate and accepts his defeat. While admitting his state of helplessness, he commands his hands to break through the wall of prejudices before him.
The poem possesses an ironic tone.  The lines “Break through the wall’ has a hidden protest in it.  He knows that it is inhuman to break the wall of social barriers hence the preposition ‘through’ is used to refer to his nearest attempt to cross the blocks.  He strives hard to evade such negative forces in life within the limited capacity of his situations.
Even though the poem does not follow a definite rhyme scheme the poet attempts a quite different style of writing.  The light shadow contrast and elements of social protest are all characteristics of his verse.
The poet has deliberately been selective in the use of words like ‘whirling dreams’, ‘shatter the darkness’, ‘smash the night’, ‘break through the wall’, ‘bright dream’, ‘dark hands’, ‘I am black’ etc.  The diction is much forceful to create a strong impact on the readers.
The number of lines in each stanza of the poem clearly depicts the transition or the stages of growing up.  The first stanza is composed of simple 6 lines.  He has used a plain and light figure of speech simile to compare his dreams to the bright sun.  Ignorance was a bliss or blessing for him in childhood. Brightness of the sun suggests the purity and freshness of his thoughts when he started his life.  The vitality and exuberance of the dream is carried out in this line.
The second stanza seems more complex with 11 lines.  While he grew up, he became more aware of what was happening around him.  In this stanza he uses complicated figures of speech.  The metaphor of wall symbolizes racism, prejudice and humiliations which he was forced to suffer.  All these impediments made his life more difficult.  Towards the third stanza the language of the poem becomes further complicated.  The stanza starts with a strong line ‘I am black’.  It was the final realization of the poet when he became matured.  Then he becomes hapless, hopeless and helpless before his plight.  He is forced to admit the surrender of his dreams before the white men.  He became a mere shadow which lies under the white people.
He uses typical words like ‘shadow’, which is a metaphor for his black identity.  The light of his dream replaced by a shadow is crumbled by the feet of whites.  He exclaims, “dark hands” and he knew the colour of his skin brought disgrace and humiliation to him.  ‘Dark hands’ is a metaphor of his attempts to cross the barrier or his mere trials to replace it which bore no fruit.  The poet brings in a contrast of night and day or darkness which is despair and the colour of his dreams which inspires him to live.
The title As I Grew Older assumes greater significance in the context of the poem.  As the poet comes of age, he discovers that he is only a shadow destined to live in darkness his social sphere has created forcefully.
In short, the poem stands close to life which is always beautiful with its pains and gains.