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Langston Hughes

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Langston Hughes

Throughout many of Langston Hughes' poetry, there seems to be a very strong theme of racism. Poems such as "Ballad of the Landlord", "I, Too", and "Dinner Guest: Me" are some good examples of that theme.

The "Ballad of the Landlord" addresses the issue of prejudice in the sense of race as well as class. The lines "My roof has sprung a leak. / Don't you 'member I told you about it/ Way last week?" (Hughes 2/4) show the reader that the speaker, the tenant, is of a much lower class than his landlord. It also shows that the landlord could care less of what condition his building is in as long as the money is still coming in. "Well, that's Ten Bucks more'n I'll pay you / Till you fix this house up new." (Hughes 11/12) shows that the speaker may be cleverer than originally thought because he is hitting the landlord right where it hurts: his wallet. At this point it seems that the speaker may actually win and get his home fixed up, until he threatens the landlord in fifth stanza. That's when it all turns around. The landlord uses that threat to get the speaker, who we now find out, is black, thrown in jail.

Richard K. Barksdale wrote "in 1940, ['Ballad of the Landlord'] was a rather innocuous rendering of an imaginary dialogue between a disgruntled tenant and a tight-fisted landlord." He then goes on to comment about the literature having once again pitted the haves against the have-nots. According to him, the landlord / tenant confrontation was "just another instance of the social malevolence of a system that punished the powerless and excused the powerful." He says that Hughes' tone of dry irony leads us to suspect that he "deliberately overstated a situation and that some sardonic humor was supposed to be squeezed out of the incident..." When this poem was written in the 1940's it showed an incident that was very likely to happen in American urban life. By the 1960's it had incited a political revolt and promoted civil unrest as a literary class assignment in a Boston high school. It was reported later that the Boston high school teacher that gave the assignment was fired for doing so.

In Langston Hughes' "I, Too", written in 1925, the speaker in the poem is a young black male. Through out this entire poem the speaker expresses great hope about his peoples' future. He seems to think that very soon, during his time, there would have been a drastic change in the way that his people were treated. "Tomorrow, / I'll be at the table" (Hughes 8/9), shows his confidence that his people would be treated as equals in a very short time period. In the last line of the poem "I, too, am America." (Hughes 18) we can almost see the speaker's face beaming with pride.

Another one of Langston Hughes' poems, "Dinner Guest: Me", written in 1965, is almost a continuation of "I, Too". The speaker in "Dinner Guest: Me" seems to be the same one, except this time that pride that we saw in his face is gone. Now instead of being confident about "Tomorrow's" change, he sees that it is, and will take much longer than he had originally anticipated. The last two lines of the poem, "Solutions to the Problem, / Of course, wait." (Hughes 22/23), tell us that this man who was once so proud of who he was is now so brainwashed by white propaganda that he refers to himself as a "Problem." We can however see that there were some differences since "I, Too" but there should have been a lot more over the forty years between the poems. Maybe that's the reason that the speaker is much less confident now. He must have figured that if so little had changed over all of those years, then he probably would not live to see



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