Daybreak in Alabama
Harlem Renaissance was the blossoming of the black intellectual, artistic and literary life which took place in the 1920s in many American cities. The place where it was most active was Harlem so this movement was known as Harlem Renaissance. Hughes contribution for this movement was through his short stories, poems, essays, plays and novels. He was one of the major influencers of that time. There were no negative stereotypes or sentimental idealization of his people. His work honestly portrayed the hardships of the working-class but he did not refrain from describing the joy and enjoyment and his people. In the essay, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,” he wrote “We younger Negro artists who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If white people are pleased we are glad. If they are not, it doesn’t matter. We know we are beautiful. And ugly too.” This approach of Hughes was hugely criticised.
“Daybreak in Alabama’ was published in 1940. It was the age of the Great Depression and American Dreams. So in this poem he does not speak about the literal day break but about a daybreak which would bring peace and cooperation amongst all. The poet says when he becomes a composer he was going to write music about a better life in Alabama. From the swamp would rise the mist and from the heavens dew would fall. In this picture he would put some tall trees and add the scent of the pine needles. The smell of red clay after rain would also emerge. Long red necks, poppy coloured faces, big brown arms,the fields would be filled with the eyes of white and black people. He was going to put hands in colours of white, black, brown and the yellow. There would red clay earth hands and each would touch each other with kindness. He concludes the poem stating in the daybreak in Alabama he would write about it.
‘Day break in Alabama has twenty three lines with no specific rhyme scheme. The lines vary in meter. The language used also native to his culture. Alliteration is the use of words starting with the same letter in one line. It is seen in these lines.
I’m gonna put some tall tall trees in it
And big brown arms
The main theme of the poem is to show the diversity in the society and the author thinks it is the most natural thing. The imagery created is very deep and meaningful. The composer could mean a leader who could make a difference, in this case for the blacks. The swamp is used to describe the situation of the African Americans and from that he is hoping there is a break, daybreak, with mist rising from the swamp and dew falling from the heavens. The tall trees could mean the white men who stood high above the blacks, oppressing them indicated by the pine needles. Then it is a riot of colours describing the necks, face, eyes and hands. Amongst this diversity, he sees kindness touching all the hands and it is this break that he is hoping for his people. Hughes has used the subtlest and softest comparison to depict the hardships of his people but ends with the hopes that the daybreak in Alabama would be more colourful and peaceful.