- My Dear Boy: Carrie Hughes's Letters to Langston Hughes 1926–1938 eds. by Carmaletta Williams and John Tidwell
The mother-daughter relationship is said to be one that often is fraught with complexities. The relationship that Carrie Hughes had with her son, renowned poet and author, Langston Hughes, demonstrates that the mother-son relationship too, can have major complexities. In My Dear Boy: Carrie Hughes's Letters to Langston Hughes 1926–1938 editors Carmaletta M. Williams and John Edgar Tidwell present a collection of Carrie's letters to her son over the course of 12 years at the beginning of the 20th century. The goal they outline is to do that which has yet to be done: "probe her [Carrie Hughes's] collected letter for their own integrity or the significance they hold for Langston's aesthetic development and output" (xv). While the idea that one's personal interactions with loved ones informs the topics, themes, and/or character development in one's art is well traversed terrain, Williams and Tidwell's application of a psychological theory to Carrie Hughes's letters to her son, along with the suggestion that his response to her can be found in the literature that he wrote is promising.
The editors read Mother Hughes's letters to her son through the Bowen Family Theory (BFT), which suggests that those who do not successfully develop maturity as they should, lean too heavily on those around them. As a result, the authors conclude that because Carrie Hughes is emotionally immature, she consistently neglects her motherly duties to Langston, yet when she does acknowledge him later in his life it is to cast him in the role of provider. He obliges often paying her bills and providing money for food and clothing, too. That selfishness is only one attribute highlighted as her massive maternal [End Page 118] shortcomings becomes clearer and clearer throughout the letters that make up the large majority of the text.
Without a doubt, C. Hughes is a fascinating character. The woman she presents in her letters demonstrate to readers that she, at worst, is a manipulative woman who leeches her son at every turn; or, at best, is a woman who, at times, desperately, tries to fulfill her own artistic aspirations. Through her consistent endeavors at professional acting, it is easy to see that she became a wife and mother when in actuality, she wanted to pursue her own career in the arts. She clings to the "shine" that being the mother of Langston Hughes provides in hopes to share the spotlight—even if only tangentially, and/or from a distance. Reading her letters, along with the background that the editors provide makes it clear that her story might have been strong enough to merit a telling of her own story—without Langston Hughes.
The argument begins to lose cohesion when Williams and Tidwell suggest that, although Hughes failed to openly express feelings about his mother, readers can discover some of his personal thoughts around the subject matter through critical analysis of his female characters. To that end, the editors look for responses that he might have made to his mother's letters through the characters created in Not Without Laughter. Although such a reading is possible, it is a weak one—particularly in the absence of L. Hughes's personal voice about the matter at hand.
How does one strongly show that what Hughes felt about his mother is in fact the whole truth without his letters to her, which would then serve as corroboration to the notions asserted to the reading audience thus far? This is where the most significant critique of the text arises; in spite of the absence of Langston's voice at all in which he articulates his feelings to—and consequently, about—his mother, readers can learn how he felt as we analyze various female characters for their similarities and/or dissimilarities to Carrie Hughes' accounts. While the BFT helps readers to understand the dynamics at play...