The Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance
Culture Awareness and the American
Modernism: A basic idea
Individual expression during the Modernist
period concerned itself with the search for self
If the icons of the past:
Then the world becomes a chaotic disordered
Many modernist works focused on man’s
search for meaning in this disordered,
meaningless, fragmented universe.
Consider the works we’ve read so far
In Sherwood Anderson’s “Brother Death”,
existence consists of a power struggle between
groups and people. Anderson would suggest
that American life is a series of conflicts for
In William Faulkner’s “The Bear”, a boy learns
through experience and surrender that those
things that bring meaning to life are eternal, like
the bear itself. Power is most pronounced
when one chooses not to use it.
Hemingway notes that self identity is defined
through a code in which the individual is
constantly aware of their mortality (the Nada)
but fully embraces life with dignity and loyalty.
And Robert Frost, using traditional poetic forms,
focuses on themes that are anything but
traditional. Life, he seems to suggest, offers no
absolutes; it is marked only by AMBIGUITY and
death (the woods are lovely, dark and deep)
How one chooses, how an individual perceives
their reality, is the only certainty in a disordered
Such abstractions, such
musings on the more
existential contexts of life,
resonated mainly among
the majority population as
an emphasis on
individualism .
White writers like:
T.S. Eliot
Gertrude Stein
Sought to “keep it new”.
Writers of the Harlem
Renaissance, however,
enjoyed no such luxury as a
search for individualism.
For despite the many social
and economic gains of the
period, African Americans
still struggled with what
W.E.B. DuBois call
“twoness” or the experience
of existing as both an Negro
and as an American.
These writers instead
focused on what it means to
be Black in America
The Power of Expression
For artists -- poets, writers,
musicians, painters, actors
– this rebirth in the arts not
only signified a flourishing
of creative expression, but a
claim to their unique
But these particular artists
existed outside the
mainstream Modernist
The Harlem Renaissance
marked the beginning of an
independent and
sometimes defiant black
culture that insisted on its
own values.
Black writers questioned
and criticized what it meant
to be American and have a
stake in society.
The New Negro
We are familiar, thanks to our
Harlem Renaissance group, with
many of the events that led to this
movement. The most prominent
The Great Migration – the
movement from the South to the
North and the literal breaking of
feudal systems and the search for
WWI – many Negros fought and
died for their country. When they
returned home, they were still
treated like second class citizens.
This created a sense of anger that
motivated many to move north to
seek a “spiritual emancipation.”
The sudden influx of blacks, the
energy derived from a change of
scenery, and the celebratory
mood of the country during the
1920s, ignited a burst of
Among like-minded people, “the
New Negro” was born. This reborn
individual, not only embraces his or
her own culture, they question the
morality of the dominant culture that
seeks to oppress a vibrant
Common Themes of the Harlem
Marginality – the individual
who lives on the edge of
American society
Racism and stereotyping
The experience of slavery
The dilemma of the black
The dilemma of writing for
an elite white audience
The question of how to
convey the experience of
modern black life in the
urban North.
Self questioning – How
should a Black person exist
in society?
The notion of America to
African Americans
A sense of unrest and
collision with the American
Dream when distinct group
are denied the basic
promise of America
The stifled dream
Code switching – walking
two distinctly different
Social Impact
The legacy of the Harlem Renaissance redefined
how America, and the world, viewed African
The migration of southern Blacks to the north
changed the image of the African-American from
rural, undereducated peasants to one of urban,
cosmopolitan sophistication.
This new identity led to a greater social
consciousness, and African Americans became
players on the world stage, expanding intellectual
and social contacts internationally.
The Former Dutch Settlement