Theme for English B by Langston Hughes


Composition 2

Langston Hughes was an African American poet and author who joined other black artists to break literary barriers during the civil rights movement. The poem entitled “Theme for English B” was written thirty years or so after the birth of the Harlem Renaissance, but still embodies why the Renaissance had originated in the first place. I believe this poem reflected on Hughes’ life in general, but more importantly on the fight against the ignorance that created discrimination.

James Mercer Langston Hughes was born February 1st, 1902 in the town of Joplin Missouri. Being the great-great-grandson of the first African American to be put into public office, one could say that Hughes was destined to make his own mark in society. The first signs of talent began in the eighth grade, where he was elected class poet. After attempting to receive a degree in engineering at Columbia University, Langston went back to his love of writing.[1] The art of writing was Langston’s calling, but his father didn’t believe he could make a living simply because he was black. Ironically, the Harlem Renaissance was just emerging.

The Harlem Renaissance was a cultural movement that strived to put African American poets, authors, and song writers on the same level as the white population. It was an underground uprising which included magazines filled with African American literature such as poems and short stories. Amongst these artists were Claude McKay, Bessie Smith, Countee Cullen, and Langston Hughes. The one characteristic that describes the Harlem Renaissance most correctly was the fact that there was no one set style. Every artist had their own way of getting their point across. The only tie that bonded them was the push for artistic equality.[2]

The Harlem Renaissance was the birth place to many African American writers, musicians, and painters, but the years falling after 1930 ultimately showed the decline of the movement. The Great Depression had come knocking, which lead to the associations supporting the cause to turn their heads to social and economic issues. Even though the movement had ended, the amount of writings in print was amazing. Between the 1920’s and the early 30’s more than fifty works of poetry and fiction were published. This was a huge accomplishment for African American artists as well as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.[3]

Hughes was a key player during the Harlem Renaissance. In 1921 he wrote a poem called “Negro Speaks of Rivers” which was published in Crisis magazine[4] before jumping on ship to West Africa and Europe as a steward on a cargo boat.[5] This was Hughes’ first published work. After his travels, Langston became a busboy where he was founded. He had left a collection of poems with poet Vachel Lindsay who immediately saw the literary skill and helped publish Hughes’ work.[6]

With the help of a scholarship, Hughes attended Lincoln University to pursue his writing career. While in school, he published his first volume of poetry as well as writing the poem “The Weary Blues”, which was a look at ghetto life[7]. Hughes’ poems differed from other poets because he associated his words with music. He combined blues and jazz rhythms and worked them into his poetry. Something unheard of before Hughes set the standard. This new type of writing brought culture and ethnicity into the mainstream.[8]

“Theme for English B” was a poem Langston Hughes wrote that might have been a look at his life ten years prior. Hughes puts us in the mind of a young African American trying to receive an education. I’m not positive when this poem was written because in our text book it said 1954, but from sites and a poetry book, I’ve read it was created in 1951. That being said segregation was still on its way out from schools, but discrimination still existed and still does. I believe the main purpose of this poem was to inform and enlighten. After all, it has been said that discrimination is a form of ignorance. Hughes challenged ignorance by evoking the teacher to take a look at his life. “Theme for English B” is separated into five stanzas. Each stanza contributes to the main themes of the poem, which I believe are that the