Land of the Oppressed: An Explication “Ballad of the Landlord”
By Langston Hughes
Traditionally a ballad is a love song but Hughes turns this ballad in to a poem with rhythm
and rhyme The Poem highlights a black man’s experience in an oppressed society. Although this
tenant has valid complaints about the conditions of his house/apt; he is thrown in jail without
cause. A great detail of the timeline and era the poem was written/created in
He begins with a relevant complaint and reminder, this complaint is a week old; The
Tenant is characterized by nonstandard English, (slang). Suggesting the man is poorly educated.
“My roof has sprung a leak / Don’t you remember I told you about it / Way last week”?
lines (2-4). He pleads it as a matter of a safety precaution on the landlord’s behalf as well as his.
“These steps is broken down / When you come up yourself / It’s a wonder you don’t fall down.”
Lines (6-8). When the landlord comes to collect the rent money, it’s as if he has deaf ears to the
tenants complaints. The tenant’s voice becomes direct but still relaxed and calm.
“Ten Bucks you say is due? / Well, that’s ten bucks more’n I’ll pay you / Till you fix this house
up new.” Lines (10-12) The tenant is being reasonable and willing to pay double the amount. He
evan overemphasizes Ten Bucks three times.
At this point of the conversation the tenant is starting to have feelings of intimidation and
frustration by the landlords threats of eviction. Lines (13-16).
The tone and exclamation point suggest the tenant and landlord are having a heated argument
now. “Um-huh! You talking high and mighty. / Talk on-till you get through. / You aint gonna be
able to say a word / If I land my fist on you.” The tenant now has unleashed pure anger,
threatening the landlord with physical violence. (Lines 19-20).
The poem has shifted now the landlord is shouting and calling for the police...
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