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One Friday Morning

Langston Hughes was a writer and poet usually associated with the Harlem Renaissance, though his literary efforts covered many genres. His short story, One Friday Morning, published in 1952 tells the story of an African American girl, who is dealt a cruel blow at an early age, but rather than give in to despair she chooses to face the future with courage and hope. Martin Luther King Jr. was the famous civil rights leader and Noble Prize winner.

His Letter from Birmingham Jail, written in 1963 is a reply to the accusations aimed at him by fellow clergymen who had criticized his civil rights activities. This work is a rhetorical masterpiece as it outlines the many injustices faced by African Americans while sending a powerful message of hope. The works of both writers have been a source of inspiration to the downtrodden all over the world. Both works deal with the oppressive subject of racial discrimination and intolerance, particularly the many injustices faced by African Americans.

The prevalent theme is one of hope that triumphs even in the face of great difficulties. Hughes and King, Jr. have attempted to portray the tremendous hardships endured by members of their race, and the enduring hope that springs from their inner pride and belief in themselves and their country. This attitude prompts them to fight for their rights rather than submitting to oppression. An examination of the respective text material highlights the theme of undying hope that triumphs over crushed dreams and immense cruelty.

In both works, the writers describe the disappointed dreams and desires that have become the lot of their people. Hughes’ protagonist Nancy Lee finds herself heartbreakingly close to achieving her dream of becoming an artist and winning a scholarship only to have her much deserved prize snatched away because she is a colored student and in the words of the committee, “…there have never been any Negro students in the local art school, and the presence of one there might create difficulties for all concerned” (Hughes 219) .

Similarly in Letter from Birmingham Jail, King, Jr. writes of utter disappointment and shattered hopes when the merchants of Birmingham’s economic community went back on their promise to remove the disgusting racial signs from their stores – “As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained” (66) . And yet both writers choose not to dwell on the misery resulting from such harsh treatment.

They have focused on the resolve and strength of the African Americans, despite intense suffering. Nancy Lee, does not allow her courage to falter and resolves in her heart to do her best to right the wrongs being to her people. Similarly Martin Luther King Jr. despite various setbacks to the civil rights movement is more convinced than ever that the time is ripe for direct action. At various points in both texts the message of hope is stressed. The writers seeking to emphasize their theme have also chosen to allude to the hurts inflicted on their people in the past.

By appealing to pathos, they bring out how trauma has not crushed the spirit of the African Americans but merely strengthened it. Their sufferings over the ages have only sharpened their courage and filled them with hope for the future. Hughes brings out this theme in his story. Nancy Lee’s painting is of her grandmother who symbolically represents her entire generation who were “…Often hurt, discriminated against, sometimes lynched” (Hughes 217) .

While the young artist has not experienced the horrors of discrimination on such a large scale, she nevertheless carries the scars of her ancestors. It is clear that the tragedies of the past have left a deep impression on her. This theme is echoed in Letter from Birmingham Jail in a passionate outburst as King, Jr. lists the terrible evils faced by his people in the form of lynching mobs that have killed their loved ones, abuse by policemen, poverty, discrimination, racial insults and the many evils of segregation.

He describes how African Americans are “harried by day and haunted by night… living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments” ( King, Jr. 69) . Both texts by showing the horrors of racial discrimination seek to reveal the legacy of endurance and hurt that has been inherited by every African American and which prompts them to undo the wrongs that have been done to them.

Their actions are for themselves as well as their ancestors who suffered even more. Hughes and King, Jr. in their bid to propagate hope have been careful not to depict all white people as their enemies; rather they are appreciative of those who have joined hands with them in the quest for civil rights. This moderate approach serves as a beacon of hope as it points to a day in the future when the entire world will join hands against racial discrimination. Mrs.

O’Shay in One Friday Morning comforts Nancy Lee’s injured spirit by encouraging her to have faith in the American Dream of equality for all, she reminds the protagonist of the abolitionists and the first white teachers who fought against segregation and in doing so, she gives her a measure of courage and the conviction that America is above all a democracy – “the premise and the base are here, the lines of the Declaration of Independence and the words of Lincoln are here, and the stars in our flag” ( Hughes 220) .

King, Jr. also writes words of praise for his white brothers who “…have languished in filthy, roach-infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as ‘dirty nigger lovers’” (78) . These noble souls give him new faith and make him stronger. In pointing out that even among their oppressors there are people who are willing to fight for the equal rights movement, Hughes and King, Jr. succeed in sending out a positive message of hope.

Finally both writers have used their unique literary styles to bring out the theme of hope. Hughes uses simple narrative style and language deliberately free of ornamentation. Therefore his tale of a girl who dares to hope for a nation “… with liberty and justice for all” (Hughes 220) is very moving. His tone is always cheerful and hopeful, never bitter or cynical even while preparing the reader for the terrible disappointment in store for Nancy Lee.

In this manner Hughes instills hope in the heart of his protagonist as well as the reader to never lose faith in the essential goodness of human nature even in the midst of great evil and tyranny. King, Jr. uses his gift for rhetoric and powers of persuasion to convey his hope for freedom from discrimination He is rather harsh in his condemnation of those who stand by doing nothing, even as they bear witness to inhumanity but warm in his praise of those who fight for a just cause.

By alternatively appealing to reason and emotion, he successfully argues his case and wins over many to the cause of civil rights. He concludes with beautiful words of hope, “Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty” (84) . In conclusion it may be said that Hughes and King, Jr.

in their respective texts have written about the crumpled desires and endless suffering endured by their people and how despite everything they have survived. Undying hope has been the light that has illuminated their path towards a better world.

Works Cited

Hughes, Langston. “One Friday Morning. ” The Collected Works of Langston Hughes. Ed. R. Baxter Miller. Missouri: Missouri University Press, 2004. 213 – 220. King, Jr. , Martin Luther. “Letter from Birmingham Jail. ” Why We Can’t Wait. New York: Signet Publishing, 2000. 64 – 84.

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