October 2, 2010
Metaphors in “I, Too”
Throughout literature, metaphors are used to represent ideas and concepts that authors are trying to relay to the readers. This is extremely prevalent in “I, Too” by Langston Hughes. Langston Hughes lived and wrote during the time of segregation and Jim Crow Laws. During this time period, African Americans were not able to go to the same schools, use the same bathrooms or even drink out of the same water fountains as white Americans (United States History). Throughout the poem “I, Too,” Langston Hughes uses metaphors to allude to his feelings on segregation and Jim Crow Laws. The opening line in the poem states “I, too, sing America” (Hughes 548). This line signifies an attempt for equality. During the time of segregation, the Jim Crow Laws were used to mandate the segregation of all public places and were supposed to have a “separate but equal” status for African Americans (United States History). This was not the case due to the fact that the treatment and accommodations were often inferior for African Americans as opposed to the accommodations that were provided to white Americans. The line signifies Hughes’ believe that he is just as equal as everyone else and he “sings” just like any other person in America. Singing is a metaphor for having a voice in the world and Hughes is explaining that his beliefs and opinions will be heard. The first stanza in the poem shows how Hughes is treated unequally. "I am the darker brother. / They send me to eat in the kitchen / When company comes, / But I laugh, / And eat well, / And grow strong" (Hughes 548). Hughes is trying to show a connection between men and in the second line of the poem it says, “I am the darker brother” (Hughes 548). This line helps to show that all men are equal except for the color of their skin. Hughes was trying to show how African Americans were treated in lines three and four which says, "They send me to eat in the kitchen/ When company comes," (Hughes 548). In the time of segregation, African Americans were not even allowed to be in the same room as white Americans. African Americans were not even allowed to enter a building or house using the front door; they had to go around back (United States History). The last four lines end the poem, as well as Hughes message. "Besides,/ They'll see how beautiful I am/ And be ashamed-,/ I, too, am America" (Hughes 548) helps to show the belief that once white people actually speak and interact with the African American people, white Americans will begin to look past the color of a person’s skin and see what a beautiful individual that person is on the inside. By white Americans getting to know African Americans as people, they will be ashamed at how they treated them. Hughes is saying that people should get the chance to look deeper into a person's soul to get to know someone before making a judgement call based on the color of their skin. This poem also addresses another point of racism, racism within one's own race. Lighter-skinned black Americans during this time period were known as “yellows” or “bronzes” and often felt superior to their "darker brother," (United States History) who didn't fit into the white society as easily as lighter-skinned black Americans. This is seen in much of Langston Hughes’ other works, along with the works of other writers likes James Baldwin. During this period, the "yellows" imagined themselves as part of the greater white community, and tried to throw away their African heritage (United States History.) Although “I, Too” is about racism, the narrator gives out a positive impact on the read, too which makes them think about how they can hope for the future. The line ''But I laugh/And eat well/And grow strong'' helps to suggests that he is getting stronger physically, but also mentally (Poets). This line helps to show that he doesn't take the slavery personally and hopes for tomorrow because he believes that slavery will be stopped. It is also about how color does not mean a thing and all people are the same. Hughes poem is somewhat reminiscent of Frederick Douglass' famous speech, "From What To A Slave Is The Fourth Of July," (The Freeman Institute) where Douglass questions and states that blacks are Americans, and should be treated equally despite the color of their skin. Hughes poem helps to open up many deep subjects, both personally and morally, for a person to think about. “I, Too” brings the question what is meant to really be an American and is the term defined by the color of one’s skin? “I, Too” is a poem that also deals with segregation and the mistreatment of black Americans. Hughes was trying to show that black Americans should be allowed to eat and interact with white Americans, and establishments should not be for "whites only." Hughes was a civil rights advocate and this poem helped to demonstrate his point of view on the subject (About Poetry). This poem is also about how Langston Hughes believes that America will unite and everyone will be a family even if they have a different skin tone. They will all be brothers and sisters and will make this country a fair and equal place to live. Hughes’ poem has helped to inspire African Americans throughout this country during the time of segregation and even to this day.
1960s, By The. “Jim Crow Laws.” United States History. Web. 23 Sept. 2010. <http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h1559.html>. Douglass, Fredrick. “What to The Slave Is Fourth of July? -- 1841 Speech by Frederick Douglass --Courtesy of The Freeman Institute...” What to The Slave Is Fourth of July? Web. 23 Sept. 2010. <http://www.freemaninstitute.com/douglass.htm>. Holman, Bob, and Margery Snyder. “Langston Hughes - Profile of the Poet Langston Hughes.” About Poetry - Poets, Poems, Poetics, Contemporary Poetry and Poetry History. Web. 26 Sept. 2010. <http://poetry.about.com/cs/20thcenturypoets/p/hughes.htm>. Kennedy, X. J., and Dana Gioia. “I,Too” Backpack Literature: an Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. Third ed. Boston: Longman, 2010. 548. Print. “Langston Hughes.”Poets.org - Poetry, Poems, Bios & More. Web. 02 Oct. 2010. <http://www.poets.org/lhugh/>.