Analysis of ‘Democracy’ by Langston Hughes


Langston Hughes born on 1st February 1902 was everyman’s poet. Both the whites and the blacks praised him for writing about the passions and frustrations of the blacks in all its reality. He didn’t exaggerate or play down the life of the African Americans. He saw people as people and not as blacks or whites. The struggles which we see today were present even during his times and that he captured very well. However it was not all too easy for him while he lived. The black intellectuals who were his contemporaries criticized him for portraying them in not-so-flattering words. The white community were already sceptical and they continued to do so. So Hughes took a lot of heat from the white and the black community.

The poet gets straight to the point in the poem ‘Democracy’. Democracy, as we know it cannot be attained by compromise or fear. In the next stanza he uses the word ‘I’ making it the direct opinion of the speaker. But it is not something personal; he represents a large group of people. He says that he has as much right as anyone else to stand where he wants to and to own the land. In the third stanzas he is getting closer to himself and is emphasising his view. There are some people who let things happen in its own time but the poet was not one to take things lying down like them. He wanted his freedom while he was alive and he was not one who wanted to live with ‘tomorrow’s bread’. Freedom is a seed according to the poet which had to be planted immediately as he wanted freedom for the simple reason that he was too living on the same earth. The fact that he was a human was reason enough for him demand his freedom.


‘Democracy’ is a free verse as there is no rhyme scheme. However there are some lines that rhyme and some kind of semblance in the meter. The rhyme sprinkled over the poem, year-fear, stand-land, say-day, dead-bread, seed-need, gives it a lyrical tone. Metaphors are used to convey the meaning to its full depth. Standing on two feet refers to independence and autonomy. The idiom

‘tomorrow’s bread’ is used as an extended metaphor meaning that he needs his freedom immediately and that it could not be postponed. Freedom is compared to a ‘strong seed’. Alliteration, the use of words beginning with the same letter is seen in the line ‘Is a strong seed’.

The theme of the poem is, as the title says, ‘democracy’, freedom. The sense of urgency to become free is beautifully brought in almost all the lines of the poem. As with the urgency, there is a tone of courage also in this poem. He is demanding his freedom and he feels that he is entitled to the freedom because he was living; it is as simple and direct as that. Since we know the poet is an African American we can bring in another theme into the poem and that is discrimination in society. The blacks were supressed by the whites for ages and now they were demanding their freedom. Like he said in ‘I, too, Sing America’, the blacks have played a big role in building America and they should be given their due freedom. If the fact that Langston Hughes is an African American is taken off, this poem stands for humanity, all who have not been allowed to live in freedom.


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