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Book Review: The Big Sea by Langston Hughes

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This autobiography mostly covers Langston Hughes’ twenties as a world traveler and worker, a reveler and poet in the Harlem Renaissance, and as a college student. He also discusses his early years  in order to show what shaped some of his actions as a person, writer, and poet.

One of the things that is enjoyable about this work is the honesty. If he felt ashamed, insecure, or mad, then he says so and explains. He doesn’t try to present himself as this genius poet who knows everything; he admits his flaws and shows he is as human as everyone else. Besides being honest about himself, he is also honest about his own race and everyone else by portraying the good and the bad side. One shocking thing he wrote about was the Washington Society,  a  group of cultured upper-class colored people who were snobs to Langston and other colored people who didn’t meet their standards.

Another admirable trait of this book is Langston’s writing style. While he does recount certain poems he wrote and what inspires them, he also displays an excellent prose writing ability through vivid sensory detail. For instance, he writes of Burutu women in Africa: “”Women of the night stood before low doors, with oiled hair and henna-dyed nails. In the golden light, they looked like dark flowers offering their beauty to the moon.” A particular line that became a favorite is about his poetry writing habit that goes, “For poems are like rainbows: they escape you quickly.”

Lastly, the theme of “a big sea” was a creative way to put a metaphor into an autobiography. Not only does it set the tone of the book, it makes the entire work seem like one poem. At the start of the work, there are the words, “Life is a big sea full of many fish; I let down my net and pull.” For this reader, it seems to mean learning to living life to the fullest with other people by learning to tolerate and appreciate them.

To sum things up, The Big Sea is a wonderful book that deserves to be read just as much as Langston Hughes’ poetry is. It is poignant,  funny, lively, and intelligent. I recommend this to fans of Langston Hughes’ poetry and those who are interested in the Harlem Renaissance.

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