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Analysis of ‘Theme for English B’ by Langston Hughes

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Theme for English B

James Mercer Langston Hughes was born on February 1st 1902. He was an American poet who donned many caps. He was a novelist, social activist, columnist and a playwright. He was well known leader of the Harlem Renaissance. He became a prolific writer at a very young age. Hughes also published many non-fictional works. He was a columnist in a newspaper called The Chicago Defender from 1942 to 1962. He mostly wrote about the civil rights movement in this newspaper headed by the African Americans. He died on May 22nd 1967 after developing complications from his prostate cancer.

The poem ‘Theme For English B’ is mildly sarcastic. The first line gives us the context of the poem. The instructor gives an assignment to the poet asking him to write a page what he truly feels. All that she wanted was ‘   And let that page come out of you…      Then, it will be true.’ This sets the poet thinking and the rest of the poem follows.  The instructor gave a simple instruction but was it that simple, the poet wonders. He starts off by stating his age and education. Most importantly he was the only coloured student in the class. He goes on to describe the walk from his class to the quarters which was Harlem Y branch. After this initial introduction he comes to the main theme of the essay to be written and says ‘It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me’. At twenty two he is a product of what he feels, sees and hears.

Like all people he also likes to ‘to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.’ He also likes to ‘to work, read, learn, and understand life’. For Christmas he would love to get a pipe or music records of Bach, Bessie or even pop music. Then he makes the statement

I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like

the same things other folks like who are other races.

In this he packs the crux of the poem.How was he different from other races? He had his likes and dislikes as all men would have.Should he write in a coloured paper? He says that his writings will be partly coloured and partly white, because he was influenced by his white instructor. Then he says that was America, mixtures of races. They might not want to be a part of each other but that is how it was. The poet was learning from the instructor and the instructor was learning from him too. There are many teachers who say that they learn a lot from their students. He packs his punch in the last two lines. Hughes say that his instructor was older than him; more importantly ‘white—and somewhat more free’. He wraps up the poem stating ‘this is my page for English B’.

‘Theme For English B’ is a poem with 41 lines and it has no form or meter.  The tone of the poem is informal and conversational. It is created by the lines like these

hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.

(I hear New York, too.) Me—who?

Alliteration is seen in line 24, Bessie, bop, or Bach. Enjambment, where the idea starts in one line and ends in the next, is used by the poet in many lines.

‘It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me

at twenty-two, my age.’

This is another factor for the poem to take on a conversational tone. The poet first states that men have the same feelings whether they are white or black. However he ends with a jab at racism saying that white men are freer than the blacks.