Theme for English B
The origin of the work “Theme for English B” is quite interesting. The author, Langston Hughes, paints a picture of a young student of color trying to figure out his place in the divided reality that America had pressed on the nation. The speaker of the poem one of the only men of color in his English class. This seemed to confuse speaker, as he did not know whether or not mimic the image of a “traditional” English student, despite race, or to fully embody his cultural and ethnic background.
The essence of this piece portrays a war between identity and reality in a dynamic world whose opinions are ever-changing. At first glance, the poem seems to be more of an excerpt from a a book as opposed to a classic poem. Hughes begins the piece with quote from the speaker of the poems teacher reading, “Go home and write a page tonight. And let that page come out of you— Then, it will be true.” (Hughes 2-6) This may seem like a simple task for a student to do; Just express what you feel and it will be true! But the speakers’ case was a little more complex. He was much different than the rest of his classmates. The English instructor is urging the students to make a connection between their writing, their selves, and some ultimate truth. When the poem was written, life for a black man was immensely different than that of a white man.
How it works
In the 1920’s, the peak of the Harlem Renaissance, Africans were alienated and not considered to be true Americans, rather just — Africans. The Harlem renaissance was an era when Africans had unique and brilliant ways of expressing their ideas and outlook on life, emphasizing more-so on the problems of ethnic divide. This makes sense as to why he states his next verse, reading, “I wonder if it’s that simple?” The man in the poem begins to analyze himself. He states all the different qualities that seem to separate himself from his classmates. “I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem. I went to school there, then Durham, then here to this college on the hill above Harlem. I am the only colored student in my class.” Harlem was a predominately black community.