Langston Hughes’s “Theme for English B” and Claude Mckay’s “America": the Black American's Dual Identity

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African American Literature can often be characterized by having a dual identity, especially in the early to mid-twentieth century. This dual reality is reflective of the African American’s heritage and present circumstances. With a heritage of forced immigration into the country, and limited rights and racism after slavery is abolished, there is a borderline pride and hatred. It is very possible to have both of these feelings, and authors reveal this confusing notion through the expression of poetry. Yes, the writers are proud of being Americans, but at the same time, are always conscience of the fact that in the land of opportunity, the color of their skin will perhaps always be not only noticed but also will limit them and their children. There are many texts that portray this dual identity of the African American, including Langston Hughes’s “Theme for English B” and Claude McKay’s “America”.

Through “Theme for English B” Hughes explores his mixed identity: “So will my page be colored that I write? Being me, it will not be white” (26-27). Before this, he identifies himself as the only black student in his class, which seems to be away from Harlem, and that he resides in Harlem. He spends his time both in the majority black Harlem, but he is learning in a mostly white area, from white professors. He hears both Harlem and New York, and therefore can identify with the black (Harlem) and the larger picture of New York (America). He explains this is part of being American, different and yet working together, if not for the benefit of each other, then for the benefit of the country. He understands that his professor and himself often “don’t want to be a part” (35) of each other, but neither of them have a choice. I think that it is important to note that Hughes emphasizes his own unwillingness to be a part of the white man This may reflect the forced immigration of slavery, or simply his own deterrence away from “whiteness”, even though it is necessary for him...
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