Onwuchekwa Jemie: On "Christ in Alabama"

"Christ is a nigger" in two senses: in the historical sense as a brown-skinned Jew like other Jews of his day, with a brown-skinned mother--both later adopted into the white West and given a lily-white heavenly father; and in the symbolic sense of Jesus as an alien presence, preaching an exacting spirituality, a foreign religion as it were, much as the black man, with his different color and culture, is an alien presence in the South. Each is a scapegoat sacrificed for the society's sins. In particular, the white sin of lust has created a mongrel mulatto race ("most holy bastard") with black slave mothers ("Mammy of the South") and white slavemaster fathers ("White Master above"). And, once created, this race is cast out, disinherited, crucified. . . .

The cryptic simplicity of "Christ in Alabama" exhibits Hughes at his best. Profound insight is carelessly draped in the most facile diction and form, the most commonplace images. There is no decoration or pedantry. The poem is so stark it could almost have been written by a child. It reminds one of classic African sculpture, with its bold lines and geometric precision. The poem evokes the feeling that great art so often evokes: that it could not have been done any other way. It commands both accessibility and depth. Hughes is a master at clothing the complex and profound in simple garb; and perhaps it is this more than any other quality that marks him as a great poet.

From Langston Hughes: An Introduction to the Poetry. Copyright © 1976 by Columbia University Press.

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Criticism Overview
Title Onwuchekwa Jemie: On "Christ in Alabama" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Onwuchekwa Jemie Criticism Target Langston Hughes
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 28 Sep 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Langston Hughes: An Introduction to The Poetry
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