The Big Sea: An Autobiography by Langston Hughes

By Langston Hughes

Advent by way of Arnold Rampersad.

Langston Hughes, born in 1902, got here of age early within the Twenties. within the enormous Sea he recounts these memorable years within the nice playgrounds of the decade--Harlem and Paris. In Paris he was once a cook dinner and waiter in nightclubs. He knew the musicians and dancers, the drunks and dope fiends. In Harlem he was once a emerging younger poet--at the heart of the "Harlem Renaissance."

Arnold Rampersad writes in his incisive new creation to the large Sea, an American vintage: "This is American writing at its best--simpler than Hemingway; as easy and direct as that of one other Missouri-born writer...Mark Twain."

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Additional resources for The Big Sea: An Autobiography

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Be impossible to an outsider to say whether I am, at a given moment, an American writing about England or an Englishman writing about America . . (W. and H. James, Selected Letters, 208)14 The position James ironically eschews is the one that prima facie might seem the most desirable: to seem like an American when writing about America, an Englishman when discussing England. On the contrary, the letter to William stresses precisely the advantage to be gained from the freshness and critical distance of the foreign perspective––James strives to maintain his American eye when examining English morals, but to put his assumed “Englishness” to good effect when working on his fellow Americans.

Of the Catholic religion” (275) in a passage which, as we shall see, seems to lurk behind this description of Marie. Earlier in The Ambassadors, we find the Catholic church, through a metaphorical detour, figured precisely as the insinuating grasper to be denied, as Waymarsh’s resistance to all things European is explained: The Catholic Church for Waymarsh—that was to say the enemy, the monster of bulging eyes and far-reaching quivering groping tentacles— was exactly society, exactly the multiplication of shibboleths, exactly the discrimination of types and tones, exactly the wicked old Rows of Chester, rank with feudalism; exactly in short Europe.

It is during his visit to Ellis Island that James fully feels the shock of the mere quantity of “aliens” who were becoming American citizens every day, and he argues that this is a shock from which the American visitor to this display will never recover: He has eaten of the tree of knowledge, and the taste will be for ever in his mouth. He had thought he knew before, thought he had the sense of the degree in which it is his American fate to share the sanctity of his American consciousness, the intimacy of his American patriotism, with the inconceivable alien; but the truth had never come home to him with any such force.

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