Deconstruction of “Cross” by Langston Hughes

Below is the exact paper I turned in for my Literary Criticism class in the fall of 2016. This is a deconstruction from a black American female’s point of view — my specific point of view and interpretation — of the poem.

The word choice of the speaker in “Cross” suggests that he is aggrieved by his mixed heritage. However, all humans are of mixed heritage, and the idea of racial purity is genetically false. Although certain ethnic features may be favored over others in some societies, the concept of pure races is an illusion. Evolutionary Science and Genetics has proven this. Thus, the idea of mixed race verses pure race is a creation of society, not reality. This poisonous artifact of society creates divides within the human species, and from it springs the self-loathing and self-hate that can be interpreted in “Cross”.

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The idea of racial purity is not only an illusion, it’s dangerous. The speaker calls his father a man, specifically an “old man” but a man nonetheless. On the other hand he does not call his mother a woman. Although it is obvious that women are mothers, the speaker does not state this explicitly. It is also obvious that his father would be a man, however he still states it, and not just once, but twice. This can suggest that he speaker does not see his mother as a woman – not a proper woman, feminine, attractive, or deserving. In America, and specifically during the time period of the author’s life, black women were and continue to be categorized as less than unfeminine, unattractive, and not just undeserving, but more likely to be abandoned with children than married with children. In this case, it is more plausible to conclude that the speaker sees his mother as undeserving, as he also states that she died in a shack.

The speaker curses his father but wishes his mother to hell. In doing so, he is cursing half of himself. Again, in the author’s era, the black woman, undeserving, and unwomanly, as she is seen by American society, is the bad side of the speaker, while his father, white and a man who dies in a big house, is the good side of the speaker. It is his mother’s fault that he suffers in a racial struggle with himself and wonders where her cursed DNA is going to ultimately land him in the final days of his life. This attitude was not lost in the era of Langston Hughes, but can be found in the ethnic cleansing modern black men engage in by avoiding black women at all cost, and adopting racists ideals about them that make them easier to reject; framing them as unattractive, unwomanly, and undeserving. There is a hatred of the black female spans society, to within her race, and as the speaker makes clear, even from son to mother. Thus the mother is cursed and cursed again.

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Mulattoes have been favored over blacks since the days of slavery. Although the speaker laments over is half blackness, he is like a whining privileged child who wants more; to be one hundred percent like his father, ideally. The source of the speakers direst is his mother’s heritage. If this was so, he could have security in the idea of him dying in a “big house” too. His mother’s blood creates his insecurity and uncertainty in his vision of the future. He lives in a world that than that makes him hyper-conscious of black heritage. The speaker’s father represents what the speaker could have, while his mother represents what can and may be holding him back. The speakers hints that she created the cross that he bares in life.

Works Cited

Hughes, Langston. “Cross.” 1989. Literature: Reading and Writing with Critical Strategies. Ed. Lynn, Steven. New York: Pearson, 2004. 96. Print.


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