Multiple Passings and the Double Death of Langston Hughes

Multiple Passings and the Double Death of Langston Hughes

Volume 23, Number 4 (Fall 2000)
pages 670-693
E-ISSN: 1529-1456 Print ISSN: 0162-4962
DOI: 10.1353/bio.2000.0043

Juda Charles Bennett, Associate Professor of English
The College of New Jersey

Desire to us
Was like a double death,
Swift dying
Of our mingled breath,
Of an unknown strange perfume
Between us quickly
In a naked

Langston Hughes, “Desire”

At the very beginning of his career and throughout most of his forty years of writing, Langston Hughes repeatedly returned to the theme of racial passing, exploring the subject in two autobiographies, several poems and short stories, a brief scene in his first novel, and at least one play. More than those writers who could easily pass for white—Jean Toomer and Walter White—and more than those writers who have become central to the growing study of passing literature—Nella Larsen and William Faulkner—Langston Hughes examines this figure through all the major genres, and more importantly, with an incredible range and inventiveness. In surveying the work, however, it becomes apparent that Hughes began to abandon the theme of racial passing just as he was beginning to explore the interrelated themes of homosexuality and homophobia. As Hughes moves to this “new” material, he can be found structuring it, perhaps as many authors do, upon his early work, with the more familiar drama of racial passing informing his approach to homosexuality. Perhaps less obvious are the ways that the early representations of racial passing, including…

Read or purchase the article here.

Tags: , , ,