An explication of “I, Too” by Langston Hughes
An analysis of Langston Hughes’ poem “I, Too” in the book The Norton Introduction to Literature (1021), shows that the author used distinct word choice and imagery to write a timeless poem about ignorance and bigotry that can be applied to any group of oppressed people, while at the same time he conveyed a strong sense of hope that at some future time, all will be welcome at the table. The opening line of “I, Too,” “I, too sing America” (1) speaks to all of America, not just Black Americans. Hughes alludes back to the poem by Walt Whitman, “I Hear America Singing” in which Whitman writes about different workers (not races or other categories.) Hughes takes this to the next level by adding his own voice to this chorus. While scholars say the tone of the poem is written in defense of Black America, Hughes writes in a manner that conveys the dreams of many other groups of people within America, both seen and unseen through his word choices. In the next two lines, Hughes states, “I am the darker brother / They send me to eat in the kitchen” (2-3). Some would argue that Hughes is using the slang “brother” to refer solely to Black Americans. The usage of the term “brother” directly after “I, too, sing America” (1), ties this term to more of an American Family, rather than just one subset of the population. At no point in the poem does Hughes use concrete imagery (through the use of color or race) of a particular group of people. Even the use of “darker brother” can be taken to mean other things (i.e. the black sheep of the family.) As for the usage of the word “they” in line 3, again, Hughes intentionally leaves out a description of who “they” are. The reader could easily make “they” the white male, but Hughes didn’t intend for his work to be that closed-ended. Hughes ends his poem firmly rooting his place as an American and not just as a Black American by changing the first line of the poem from “sing” to a...
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