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CSEC English B: Theme for English B by Langston Hughes Analysis

Updated: Jan 11, 2021




Theme for English B

Langston Hughes


The instructor said,

Go home and write

a page tonight.

And let that page come out of you—

Then, it will be true.

I wonder if it’s that simple?

I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.

I went to school there, then Durham, then here

to this college on the hill above Harlem.

I am the only colored student in my class.

The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,

through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,

Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,

the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator

up to my room, sit down, and write this page:

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

at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what

I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you.

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

(I hear New York, too.) Me—who?

Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.

I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.

I like a pipe for a Christmas present,

or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.

I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like

the same things other folks like who are other races.

So will my page be colored that I write?

Being me, it will not be white.

But it will be

a part of you, instructor.

You are white—

yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.

That’s American.

Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.

Nor do I often want to be a part of you.

But we are, that’s true!

As I learn from you,

I guess you learn from me—

although you’re older—and white—

and somewhat more free.

This is my page for English B.


Summary

The persona is a negro student (the only one in his class) who is given an assignment by his instructor write a page that comes from within him, and is therefore 'true'. He is 22 and lives in Harlem. He now puzzles over what is 'true' for any person. The persona questions who he is. The introduction of the concept of truth is strange for him as a black man given this assignment by a white instructor. He recounts his own tastes- a mixture of things liked by different people of different races. This brings to light a dilemma within him; an uncertain relationship between race and identity. He now sees that his race doesn't define his tastes, He ponders whether his race affects his identity, and therefore, if it will affect the identity of truth he presents on his page. He knows that it is important to his identity, but, through his realization that his tastes are unaffected by race, he knows that it doesn't define his identity. The persona boldly now asserts that he and his instructor are part of one another. Their history, and evidently American societal bonds between them, form a deep connection. He knows now that his race is not what defines his identity, nor is it an intimate determiner of who he is. Instead, race seems a sort of encumbrance, or burden, which is why he knows that his instructor may not often want to be a part of him. However, this connection that pervades age, race and gender is undeniable. As the only coloured student in his class, he obviously experiences a great deal of alienation and may feel out of place. In spite of this, they are linked, and they learn from each other. The persona knows that his race can be a burden that limits him, and he also knows that his instructor is somewhat more free than he is- simply because he is white.

This all shows the true message of the poem- the fact that race and the unequal distribution of privilege based on race is not what defines them, it simply obscures the deep connections between them.

The themes of this poem include race and identity. The tone is reflective, and the mood is also thoughtful/pensive.


Analysis


"The instructor said,

Go home and write a page tonight. And let that page come out of you— Then, it will be true."

The poem begins with a direct quote from the persona's instructor giving the directions for the assignment. He says that the page written must 'come out' of the student and then it would be 'true.' This introduces the idea of truth, and how this relates to the persona himself,


"I wonder if it’s that simple?"

The persona's dilemma begins with the use of a rhetorical question. He wonders if his page will be true simply because he writes directly from his heart. He doubts the simplicity of the instructor's directions.


"I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem. I went to school there, then Durham, then here to this college on the hill above Harlem."

This is a short biography of the persona's life. He is 22 and coloured (black) and has moved between places and schools throughout his life. Now he is at a college situated above the town of Harlem. The location of the college above Harlem could be seen as representative of the prestige of the college.


"I am the only colored student in my class."

The persona gives more details, showing that he is the only student of colour in his class. This indicates that he possibly feels alienated or out of place in his class as a result.


"The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem, through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas, Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y, the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator up to my room, sit down, and write this page:"

Our persona travels home through this convoluted set of directions and comes to the Harlem Y, or the Harlem YMCA which is a community center and a cheap hostel for young people to stay. This tells us a little about the speaker's likely low income. He begins the page as soon as he gets to his room, and the stanza ends with a colon showing that the following lines will be the assignment.


"It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me at twenty-two, my age."