Widow Woman by Langston Hughes


In this article, we will discuss Langston Hughes’ poem Widow Women. The poem is an intriguing one. It is a rhythmic, colloquial ballad about a woman whose husband has recently died. Nobody else wants her and no one else wants her. Her late husband was known as a great king because he dominated over her for many years. The poem concludes with the emphasised cry that it is impossible to determine when a woman like the widow is free.

About the Poet

James Mercer Langston Hughes, born in Joplin, Missouri, was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist. Hughes is best recognised as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance and one of the early founders of the literary art form known as jazz poetry.

Summary of Widow Woman

Widow Woman is a ballad about a woman who has recently lost her husband. In the poem, the woman expresses her grief over her husband’s death and pledges that she will never accept another lover or cease mourning her husband’s loss. This poem has several references to black men and women. Marriage is a rite of passage for the majority of the world’s cultures. However, there are often significant things that happen in a marriage between two individuals that are hidden from the rest of the world. The narrator of the poem “Widow Woman” uses the force of her voice to highlight some of the more significant aspects of marriage.

Love is one of the key concepts that emerges. The narrator employs her voice to convey the depth of her feelings for her husband. Her remarks show that she was a dedicated wife and companion: ” “If I live to be a thousand /I’ll never dry these tears” (17-18). The widow is so devastated by her husband’s death that she sincerely mourns him and swears to do so for the rest of her life. Hughes uses hyperbole to illustrate the depth of the woman’s love for her husband, therefore the theme of love is present throughout. For example, she declares that she does not want to be with another man and even prevents other men from showing interest in her: “I do not want nobody else and/or do not nobody else want me” (Hughes 19-20). She also has a mournful tone in her voice as she recalls her husband’s funeral: “When they put you in de ground and/they throw dirt in your face” (Hughes 7-8). Overall, the poet wishes to respect the wife’s marital love for her husband while he was still living (Hughes and Rampersad 109).

Another recurring motif in the poem is male supremacy in the marriage; it is clear that her husband was in charge of the family. Furthermore, he was not only domineering, but he also exerted his authority violently enough to leave an effect on her. ”You was a mighty lover and you ruled me many years.” In reality, the name implies that her husband’s death was the only time he ever relinquished authority, and it was only because he had no choice: “I say put you in de ground and/throw dirt in your face/that is one time, pretty papa/you’ll surely stay in your place” (9-12). It appears that the poet is in favour of masculine dominance.

Female repression is consistent with the concept of male dominance in marriage. As her husband exercised complete power over the marriage, the woman was understandably suppressed: “You was a mighty lover and you ruled me many years”. While she appreciated her husband’s lovemaking, the narrator’s usage of rule definitely suggests that she resented his ruling. The poem captures both the beauty and the difficulties of marriage. The wife adores her husband but is resentful of how he rules over her.

The poem’s final premise is freedom. Notably, because it is unexpected, this is a contentious or puzzling factor. The narrator’s voice throughout the poem conveys the sense that she was satisfied with her husband’s reign. Therefore, it is startling when she discusses the potential of independence, almost shyly based on the short italicised words: “Yet you never know when a woman like me is free!” (23-24). This comment reveals a new aspect of the woman in the poem, giving the idea that she has finally found her voice and is able to use it to advocate for herself, a freedom she gained only after her husband’s death. While she mourns his death, she also harbours the forbidden hope that, with his death, she will finally be free. The statement compels the reader to reconsider the entire poem from a completely different perspective. One of the most obvious questions is whether she announces that she will never want another guy and prevents other men from wanting her because she does not want to jeopardise her newfound independence by surrendering to another man’s dominance.

“Widow Woman” is one of Langston Hughes’ most interesting poems. It reflects the proportions of man-woman marriage. The factors that emerge are love, male domination, feminine subjugation, and the desire for freedom. Finally, the poet shows that marriage can have both positive and unpleasant features.

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