The Harlem Renaissance impacted African Americans by giving them a new identity. This movement gave African Americans the opportunity to express clearly the experiences they had once endured. Through African American literature, art, and music, Americans were given the chance to learn about their differences in cultures and lifestyles. With this new found freedom and a better understanding from all points of view, African Americans found it easier to come to the North and live a life that was free as well as being considered a member of the sophisticated society. With this came a world of better social understanding.
African Americans now had a stronger sense of self determination which gave them a community that was able to stand and work together. But, even with this new found freedom, there was still discrimination and tough times ahead. The Harlem Renaissance gave African Americans an urban setting which allowed them to have the opportunity to understand and appreciate the different lifestyles and cultures of other African Americans no matter what their past was like.
While the Harlem Renaissance only had a direct effect on African Americans, all Americans saw how important it was for minority groups to have the opportunity to express themselves through literature, art and music. While the Harlem Renaissance did not end segregation, it did open the eyes of Americans to see that the ways of the “white man” were not the only way of thinking and creating. The Renaissance died down by the 1930’s, however the literature of the time still carries relevant messages.
Characteristics of the Harlem Renaissance
The Harlem Renaissance was a social movement that took place in Harlem, a community in New York City. This movement was the first time that African American literature had been taken seriously as an art. This renaissance was introduced as African Americans became a part of the middle class due to their opportunities of better education and employment. The Harlem Renaissance movement mainly concerned literature, but also was fueled by enthusiasm in music, art, politics and racial issues.
Some of the areas that were covered through the arts were literature, music, drawing, and painting. The political and racial issues that were emphasized were areas such as segregation and other racial injustices. The Harlem Renaissance did not appeal to just a single audience but instead had a very broad range of audience members. The different arts intrigued the rich and the poor of both the white and African American societies.
Many literary styles came out of the Harlem Renaissance with the African American identity being the strong theme. This theme was one that was focused on bringing back more of the African traditions into the American culture. It also brought light to the social norms of African Americans that needed to be changed for a better unity of the white and black societies. Not only was the Renaissance about literature, music and art, but it also included some of the great philosophical minds of the time.
Famous novels of this time include Nella Larsen’s Quicksand and Passing as well as George Schuyler’s Black No More and Slaves Today. Langston Hughes, Lewis Alexander, and Gwendolyn Bennett were poets of this time. Musicians from the Harlem Renaissance period include Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith and Duke Ellington.
Relationship between the Harlem Renaissance and Passing
Nella Larsen wrote Passing in the 1920’s during the Harlem Renaissance. Her writing was influenced and encouraged during the 1920’s by some of the most influential names on the art scene during this time. Larsen’s work was introduced to a publisher by Carl Van Vechten who is popularly credited with promoting many Harlem Renaissance writers. Larsen’s work, Passing , was given great praise for “capturing, as did no other novel of the genre, the psychology of racial passing with ‘consummate art’.”
Nella Larsen’s literature is a prime example of the work that came out of the Harlem Renaissance era. She wrote two novels and as we can see, Passing is a story that brings up many of society’s conflicts concerning racial identity. This is a story that would have spoken to the black community in a very fundamental way. The main issue that Larsen’s work speaks of is racial pride and social equality. The act of passing would have been a controversial issue at the time because it meant a person was going against his roots and pretending to be someone that he was not. This idea of passing goes against the ideas that the Harlem Renaissance stood for, which were to unite and bring together the black community.
"Harlem Renaissance: Impact of the Harlem Renaissance." Harlem Renaissance: Impact
of the Harlem Renaissance. 9 Feb. 2009
"Harlem Renaissance," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2008
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