26 September 2012
“Dinner Guest: Me”: The Problem has a Problem
The speaker in Langston Hughes’s “Dinner Guest: Me” finds himself the center of attention at a dinner party on Park Avenue. The speaker deceptively sets the reader up in the first few lines of stanza one by using a rhyme scheme that suggests a slightly cavalier outlook on the evening ahead; he says, “I know I am / The Negro Problem / Being wined and dined” (lines 1-3). By using a mixture of alternating and repetitive end rhyme, in addition to the internal rhyme, the speaker’s rhythm and pace is initially quick and bright, immediately engaging the reader’s curiosity about what should prove to be an interesting evening. The irony of the dinner party for the speaker is that he represents the black Problem, and he makes the point early on in the poem, that all of the other guests are white; nevertheless, the speaker is the main attraction at this lavish gathering, “Answering the usual questions / That come to white mind” (4-5). The juxtaposition of the Problem as an invited guest, not to mention the primary focus of conversation, is something the speaker feels is not the norm; if the black Problem is present for a dinner party on this side of town, it would not be sitting at the dinner table; the Problem would be serving the dinner table. The speaker in Langston Hughes’s “Dinner Guest: Me” uses personification and imagery to allow the reader to experience his bemusement and conflict as a black man partaking in what he believes to be a white man’s world on Park Avenue. The speaker’s use of personification in this poem is not immediately evident. However, a valid argument can be made that a black man is not literally present for this dinner party at all; the Problem of the black man and the plight of the black community is obviously the center of attention and the primary topic of discussion, but the Problem’s physical presence is not...