The illustration of social class between White and Black Society, portrayed through Langston Hughes’ poems Theme for English B, Democracy and I Too Sing America
African American poet, Langston Hughes, exposes the history of the segregation of white and black society in America through his various collections of poetry. More specifically, he portrays the illustration of social class within his three poems Theme for English B, Democracy and I Too Sing America. The author writes from the perspective of an African-American exemplifying the emotion of wanting to belong. Hughes shows this separation through his use of literary features, themes and creation of atmosphere and tone throughout his poems.
Hughes creates an atmosphere and tone to illustrate the ‘social class’ in early 20th century America. Democracy tells that “freedom will not come today, this year, nor ever” (Lines 1-2) portraying a lack of hope among the African-American society. It also shows the attitude of tiredness among Black society, how “they cannot live on tomorrow’s bread” (Line 14) and they “have as much right” (Line 4) to “live here too” (Line 17). The contrasting tone present is optimism, where Black society is anticipating a time when they will be treated with equal respect. This tone is heightened by the repetition of “freedom” (Lines 15-17) and “tomorrow” (Lines 12-14) which positions the reader to empathise with African American society.
In I Too Sing America, “the darker brother” (Line 2) is “made to eat in the kitchen” (Line 3), away from white society, who shun him for being different, but when different company comes “they’ll see how beautiful [he] is” (Line 15) and “be ashamed” (Line 16) for the unjust they showed him. The tone in I Too Sing America is of the hope that the narrator holds for “tomorrow” (Line 8) and how “[He] too is American” (Line 17), this tone focuses on the culture and struggle of African Americans, illustrating the order of social class to the reader. Theme for English B tells of how society has ignored a “22 year old, coloured man” (Line 7) and how “it’s not easy” (Line 16) being “the only coloured person in [the] class” (Line 10). The tone is harsh, with frequent comparisons between White and Black society such as “you are a part of me, as I am a part of you” (Line 32) and “will my page be coloured that I write, being me it will not be white” (Lines 27-28). Hughes uses these comparisons to highlight the dichotomies between White and Black society. Hence, the creation of tone and atmosphere allows Hughes to effectively illustrate the differing social classes in his poems Theme for English B, Democracy and I Too Sing America.
The segregation of White and Black society is portrayed through the use of literary features. Throughout the poems Theme for English B, Democracy and I Too Sing America, a prominent literary feature employed by Hughes to develop the reader’s understanding of social class is figurative language. In Democracy, lines such as “I want freedom too” (Line 20) and “I have as much right” (Line 5) represent the isolation experienced by black Americans. The use of couplets, “dead.. bread” (Lines 13-14), “stand..land” (Lines 5-6) and “seed..need” (Lines 15-16) in Democracy , allows the poem to flow freely, allowing Hughes to emphasise the theme within. Imagery is displayed by the simile used in lines 15-16 when “freedom” is described as a “strong seed planted in great need” to accentuate the longing of wanting to belong to society.
In the Theme for English B Hughes exemplifies the segregation further by word choice such as “coloured” (Line 7) and “white” (Line 27), which represent hierarchies depending on skin colour. In each poem emotive language is used by Hughes to achieve a direct link to themes, such examples of this are “let the page come out of you” (Theme for English B, Line 4), “democracy will not come” (Democracy, Line 1) and “I Too Am American” (I Too Sing America, Line 17). The poems titles help to convey the tone by positioning the reader to sympathise the African Americans. I Too Sing America depicts that whilst he is black, he too sings the national anthem of the country he is from. Democracy holds the reflection of the justice system and how black people are treated inferior to white society. Through these literary features, Hughes helps the reader to view the segregation of white and black society.
The themes in Hughes’ poems, Theme for English B, Democracy and I Too Sing America, position the reader to sympathise with Black society. Common themes held in all three poems are discrimination, racism and segregation which position white people to be the perpetrators of injustice, whilst black society as the victims. In Theme for English B the narrator exclaims that black people like similar things to white society such as to “eat, sleep, drink, to be in love, work, read, learn and understand and life” (Lines 21-22), posing the reader with the question as to how the races differ.
I Too Sing America speaks of the discrimination at being made “to eat in the kitchen” (Line 3) and mistreated but then of hope, hope for change when he “will be at the table” (Line 9) and accepted as part of white society. Democracy allows the reader to empathise with the African Americans, accentuated by the themes of longing, acceptance and tiredness. In lines 10-12 it is stated “I tire so from hearing people say tomorrow is another day” showing the loneliness experienced by African Americans. It is through these themes Hughes positions the reader to view the segregation of white and black society in America in his poems.
In his poems, Theme for English B, Democracy and I Too Sing America, Langston Hughes exposes the segregation of white and black society throughout America’s history. The illustration of social class is enhanced by the use of literary features, themes and creation of atmosphere and tone. The perspective chosen by the author, from the view of an African American, exemplifies the emotions portrayed within. Throughout these poems, Hughes positions the reader to view the unjust times African American’s have faced throughout history and hardships they still face today.