Analysis of ‘Cross’ by Langston Hughes


Langston Hughes started to write when he was still in school and his first work got published when he was in college. He wrote till his death which was in 1967; however his popularity in the 50s and 60s was varied. He had become very popular all over the world but the younger generation of black writers had a different take on his writings. The black pride was considered out-dated. Some considered him to be a racial chauvinist. The new crop of writers in the Black Power Movement ofthe 60s exhibited anger in their writings. As opposed to this Hughes writingswere devoid of any powerful anger and racial enmity with the whites. Hughes set a tone of friendship, brotherhood and cooperation. He never stopped thinking of others.

The poem ‘Cross’ laments his birth; his birth to a white father and black mother. The speaker starts off by calling his father an old white man and his mother a black old mother. It is obvious that the speaker is a young person who had once cursed his father. Now he is regretting it and says ‘I take my curses back’. He was no better to his mother. For the things she did, which might have been for his good, he cursed his mother and wished she was in hell. Now the speaker is sorry for those curses and now he wished her well.

The speaker’s story was not one with a fairy-tale ending. Now the speaker understands the troubles of having a combination of white and black parents. The old father died in a huge mansion while the mother died in a shack indicating that his white father was rich while his black mother was poor. Now the speaker wonders where he would die. If he was with his father he would die in a big mansion. If he lived with his mother he would die in a shack, bereft of any money or other luxury. Now the speaker was neither of the two, he was truly worried about what would happen as he was neither white nor black.

This poem has twelve lines and can be divided into three stanzas. The first and the second have different rhyme scheme. In the first stanza it is ABAB and in the second it is CDED. The third stanza has no rhyme scheme. However when the whole poem is considered, the rhyme scheme is irregular. Anaphora is used in this poem with the repetition of the words ‘My old man's …… and my old mother's ……..’ The metaphor is seen in the title of the poem ’Cross’. He is cross with his hybrid birth which is now known as mulatto. The tone of the poem is of regret and frustration and it is seen all through the poem. Hughes’s poems are generally positive but not this poem ‘Cross’.  The speaker is upset with his ethnic roots and he feels he does not belong to his ethnic root or to the adopted country. He is neither rejected nor accepted completely. In his frustration he curses his mother and father but also regrets that. There is confusion in his thought process as well. The last line reflects his insecurity in life. The disparity of life pains the poet and leaves the speaker pondering about his fate.



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