Theme for English B Analysis

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The main questions being posed by Hughes in “Theme for English B” seem simple, who are we and how is it that we know who we are? Such questions, he suggests, must be simple because an instructor in a basic English class (English B) uses them as the basis for an assignment: “Go home and write a page tonight. And let that page come out of you.” The instructor claims that if the students let it come out of them, it would be true. But the student is not sure it’s that easy. Then he begins to list all the reasons that such an assignment might not be so simple. He is twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem, went to school in Durham, NC, and then came to college in Harlem. Furthermore, he is the only African American in his class, which might seem strange for Harlem in 1951, when the poem was published. Then the student gives the route he takes to get from the college to his apartment and where he sits down to write his assignment. He studies the difficulty of writing something that is “true” or would be judged as true by an apparently white instructor or what is even true for him, a twenty-two year old black man. But then he concludes that he is what he feels, sees, and hears, and he says he hears Harlem. Next, he starts to list what he likes. “Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love. I like to work, read, learn, and understand life. I like a pipe for a Christmas present, or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.” Then he supposes that being African American does not make him all that different in the things he likes as other races. So the question occurs to him, “So will my page be colored that I write?” He wonders if his race will make a difference in what he writes, and he wonders whether he will be able to communicate with a white instructor, because he is black. He then states that what he writes will “not be white,” but it will be part of the instructor. Even though he is black and the instructor is white, they are still part of each other. But he admits that...
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