Analysis of ‘Ruby Brown’ by Langston Hughes

Ruby Brown

James Mercer Langston Hughes (February 1, 1902– May 22, 1967) believed that people could live sanely and with understanding. Most of his poems reflected this. In his column titled ‘From Here to Yonder’ Hughes has created a character, Jesse B. Simple, popularly known as Simple to reach to the people. Hughes began writing this column in 1942. Simple is a poor man living in Harlem. He is no-good, typical good-hearted fellow who tells his story to Boyd, a writer, for a drink.  His stories were about life, money, women and work. Through these simple stories he talks about the problems of poor black men in a racist society. In the words of Simple “White folksare the cause of a lot of inconvenience in my life.” In spite of so many writings he became unpopular with the younger and more militant writers. However Hughes never gave up his conviction that “most people are generally good, in every race and in every country where I have been.”

‘Ruby Brown’ is a poem about a young girl who is completely confused about her life and had to choose between money and self-respect. Ruby Brown was a young and beautiful girl who shone like the sunshine. But since she was coloured, Mayville, the place where she stayed, had nothing much to offer her. Her soul wanted to burn with a clean flame of joy but Mayville did not offer her the fuel for her soul. A young girl who could not earn well is at cross roads. She has a small job with an old lady called Mrs.Latham. While polishing silver one day, she asks herself two questions. One was, if the money from the white woman’s kitchen was enough for her life. She wondered if there was anything else she could do for greater joy.

She then took a decision. With the new decision Ruby Brown and the shuttered house in which she stayed became very popular in Mayville. The god fearing folks of the town did not mention her name. But the white men visited that shuttered house and paid her lots of money; now she got much more than what she got when she worked in the kitchens of white people.

‘Ruby Brown’ is a free verse with twenty seven lines in three stanzas. Each stanza has different lines in different meter. It is a soulful poem which discreetly tells that Ruby Brown opted for prostitution to earn money. The alliterations seen in this poem are ‘sinister shuttered’ and in the line ‘Habitués of the high shuttered houses’.  Simile is used to describe the beauty of Ruby Brown. She is like the golden sunshine which warmed the body. Repetition of ‘shuttered houses’ is the anaphora in the poem. The theme of the poem is the dilemma of a young girl who finally dirties her soul by opting to go into prostitution. With the use of just few words like ‘sinister shuttered houses’, and lines like

‘The good church folk do not mention

Her name any more’


‘Pay more money to her now’ the poet conveys that Ruby Brown chose to go into prostitution. This is a poem which leaves a touch of sorrow in the reader.

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