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The theme of English B by Langston Hughes is one of the best-anthologised poems by the author. The author self-identifies himself as a coloured person, and for the next half of the poem emphasises the way race separates him figuratively and physically from the instructor and classmates. The narrative of the poem revolves around a young student whose lecturer has asked him to write a true page about his life.
The speaker reflects on his life as a twenty-two year old colored male, a student in New York who lives in Harlem. The speaker identifies with Harlem and lists some of the meaningful things he likes like listening to music, eating and sleeping. The author Clearly points out in the first lines of the poem that that being colored does not preclude him from wanting the exact same things that white people like. The writers question about American identity and the American Dream are the central themes in the poem. The theme of race and identity in the poem can make a person’s race and background influence the way a person experiences and identifies with the poem. An analysis of the way a person’s identity and background influences the understanding of the poem is presented in this review.
Having lived in a multicultural environment and an inclusive society that values people for their content of character rather than their races, I can easily identify with the themes of the poem. I have always believed that all races are equal and racial tensions and bigotry are arbitrary and artificial. The poem directly challenges the social practices of racist practices like segregation through suggesting that the all races are the same in their desire and wants. The author reflects on what it means to be a colored person in a class full of white students and a white instructor. The author speaks about having a different perspective about life that is different from that of the instructor yet they still share the same dreams and aspirations as Americans.
Speaking about the assignment the instructor handed to him, the author questions whether the assignment will be colored just because a colored person wrote it. The observes that the page he will write will be part of the instructor who is white and therefore a part of him and because he has written it is still a part of him. The author therefore seems to suggest that the paper will be a part of the instructor and a part of him, regardless of who wrote it, and that is what being a true American means.
The author seems to suggest that regardless of the difference in races between him and the instructor, they can identify themselves as Americans. The experiences of the author with racial tension and segregation and the experiences that unite him with the instructor and the other students are all pieces of what the speaker suggests to be the larger American identity. The writer’s difficulties in understanding the colour of the piece of writing is a part of the question of identity and a metaphor of the segregation of races. When the author asks whether the page that he writes will be black of white, he is questioning blackness as a category of race.
The author hints the way his life is limited due to racial segregation through suggesting that his instructor is freer because he is older and white. This poem therefore highlights the racial associated factors that make many coloured students have a daunting task attending college compared to their white classmates. A person who has a similar background of struggling going through college in a racially segregated neighbourhood can identify with the challenges faced by minority populations in attending college highlighted in this poem. Although the author of the poem describes the experience of racial segregation and racism in a school context, he manages to align himself with the rest of the students and the instructor. He says that being coloured doesn’t prevent him from liking the things white people desire.
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life….
I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races. (Hughes, 3).
In this way, the writer justifies the notion of the equality of races because he observes that all people like the same things.
The Author of the Poem manages to portray that all races and equal and race and ethnicity are just ideologies imbued with certain cultural meanings. For example, the views of many Americans and Westerners about race are informed by a complicated history of colonialism, racial discrimination, and immigration. This historical background in some instances informs the negative stereotypes most Westerners and Americans have about the minority, Colored and black population.
Marginalized and minority populations have a history of batting to secure the privileges and rights and opportunities systemically denied by the majority population which is a struggle that continues to date. A person from a minority population can therefore easily identify with the theme of equality in the poem. Peoples’ racial and ethnic background and experiences are, therefore, very essential in informing the way people understand race, its embedded meaning and stereotypes associated with the minority and dominant races in a region. It is, therefore, apparent that the ethnic background, race, and experiences shape the ideas of what race and ethnicity mean.
Langston, Hughes. “Theme for English B.” The everything writing poetry book: A practical
Guide to style structure form and expression. London: Author, 2005. Print.
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