Cross By Langston Hughes Summary and Analysis
The narrator of the poem is a young mulatto, expressing his frustration at being both black and white but never fully belonging to either of the two races. He is not accepted by blacks because he is half white, and he is shunned by whites because he is half black. The historical significance of this is that during the 1920s (in the U.S.), the cultural and racial segregation of African Americans and Caucasians were very defined and apparent. As such, the narrator is stuck in a sort of purgatory/gray area/limbo, for he is deprived of the chance to be immersed in either race due to racial pride. Thus, he is left in a state of confusion, suffering an identity crisis. He has no one with which he can identify.
As the narrator matures, he realizes that he can’t blame or hate his parents for who he is. It doesn’t make any sense. At the end of the day, he’ll still be who he is, so why hate?
The last stanza emphasizes the poverty of the Blacks versus the wealth of the Whites during this time period. For, the narrator says that his father died in a big house while his mother died in a shack. He still doesn’t know how to categorize himself in terms of identity, but he accepts the issue as it is. Once he decides which path to lead–life as a black man or life as a white man–then he’ll know where he’ll die.
Connotation, in literary terms, describes the association that are attached to certain words. For example, the word “gun” has a negative connotation. Instead of associating guns with a positive thing like “protection,” most people associate the word “gun” with death, blood, murder, etc. The connotation is what separates two identical words. So, we all know that “house” and “home” are both places of dwelling and their definitions are almost entirely identical. However, what separates the two words are their meanings.
When you say “house,” it is impersonal and objective, but when you say “home,” we associate things like family, warmth, safety, with it. Get it?
In “Cross,” the word cross has many connotations. It can mean practically anything. Although it is not directly written in the poem, the word encompasses the entire essence of the poem.
The young narrator of the poem is:
–multiracial, multicultural, mulatto, cross-breed.
-His hybridity is a burden–a cross to bear. This brings about the image of the crucifix, making the narrator or subject of the poem somewhat of a Jesus figure. For, like Jesus, he suffers from constant persecution.
-He is at a crossroads. Which world does he fit into white or black?
-He makes a crossover from his previous emotions. At first, the narrator admits that he was angry or cross at both of his parents, but, he later lets go of that hatred and forgives them both.
Who is the Poem Really About?
Some critics argue that the poem is about Mr Hughe’s ethnic roots, reflecting the life of African Americans during the 1920s. The stark poverty of the black population in comparison to the white community showcases the intensity of the racial tensions of the time as well as the injustice of the persecution of blacks.
On the other hand, some literary scholars insist that the poem may be a commentary of the slavery and the long-lasting effects that it may have on future generations. As we well know, white slave owners often took advantage of their black female slaves, resulting in mulatto children. Thus, the narrator could easily be the child of a former slave.
Cross Poem Analysis
Langston Hughes reflects the continuous struggling relationship between White and Black individuals through the connotation in the poem Cross. The connotation in the title itself resembles two connected ideas that share a middle ground, which can be physically seen by the image of a cross, where Hughes reflects upon his mother and his father and ultimately questioning where he will eventually die.
A. Langston Hughes purposely titles this poem Cross to symbolize a connection between his mother and his father, since both were of different racial backgrounds based on the poem.
1. Hughes includes the lines “My old man’s a white old man / And my old mother’s black” (1- 2) to provide an introduction regarding his parents. The prime issue that immediate rises from the start of the poem is how Hughes is able to connote both “while old man” and “mother’s black” to refer to the slavery that was still present during the parents’ lifetime. This contrast provokes some sort of question that will be introduced in the end of the poem.
B. The connotation and the structure of the poem involuntarily tells a story, yet the poet’s main goal is to engage the readers in a serious question regarding the poet’s racial status compared to his parents’, thus relating back to the connecting ideas (mother and father) that meet on a common ground (the final line in the poem).
1. Hughes introduces the poem in a quatrain that describes both his mother’s and father’s races and states that if he had ever “cursed” (line 3) his man, he sincerely apologizes for it. Hughes’ repeats this concept with his mother, referring to her as “my black old mother” (5).
In the second stanza, Hughes connects the connotation of “hell” (6) and “evil” (7) to prove that evilness associates with hell. Hughes incorporates an antithesis between the first two stanzas to contrast the racial background between the mother and the father, yet provides a similarity between the parents by introducing a negative emotion through the connotation of “curses” and “evil”.In the last stanza, Hughes incorporates synecdoche to represent the economic status of his parents. He refers to his mother by describing that she “died in a shack” (10) while his father “died in a fine big house” (9). The “fine big house” is a synecdoche that represents security, protection, and most importantly a high status in society.
The “shack” is another synecdoche that represents the mother’s poor economic status, lack of protection, and lack of security based on her colour. The point Hughes makes in this poem is that he wants the readers to critically engage in his background, and more importantly, come to a conclusion regarding what he technically falls under based on his last question. He states: “I wonder where I’m gonna die, / Being neither white nor black?” (11-12). The specific diction he uses could represent the education white and black people received in the era of slavery, where white individuals received a better education than black people. The denotation in “gonna” resembles a slang word for “going”, which could represent the poor education he received as a child. The denotation in “Being neither white nor black?” shows a better understanding of grammatical concepts to express his thoughts, which could represent somewhat advanced education he could have received.
In general, Hughes includes contrast, antithesis, and synecdoche to identify the different backgrounds he came from and offers a question at the end of the poem to technically stump his audience in knowing the perfect solution to his question, thus causing a sense of confusion by the end of the poem. By forming his poem to fit the symbolism of a cross, he manages to engage the audience in introducing them to the parents, which represent the two connecting points to the middle of the cross, where he ultimately ends the poem with the fairly difficult question.