I, Too by Langston Hughes

Here is an analysis of Langston Hughes’ poem I, Too, which is an incredibly personal poem Hughes wrote, expressing how he felt as though he is an unforgotten American because of his skin color.  In the short poem, Hughes proclaims that he, too, is an American, even though the dominant members of society are constantly pushing him aside and hiding him away because he is African American.  Even though Hughes feels ostracized because of his race, he still sings as an American.  Hughes turned to poetry in order to speak out against the blatant racism and oppression surrounding African Americans, and this poem is no exception.  Although short in length, it delivers a powerful message about how many African Americans felt—and still feel—in America. Langston Hughes’ poem, I, Too, can be read in full here.

 

I, Too Summary

In this poem, the speaker, who is probably Hughes himself, is proclaiming to the world that he, too, is an American.  He, too, sings America.  He refers to himself as “the darker brother,” and even though he is not allowed to be seen as an equal among men in his country,—he is continually hidden away by the white majority– he is still an important and integral part of America.  Even though the poem is dealing with a very painful subject—racism—the poet and speaker are still hopeful that one day soon, the powers that be will be ashamed of the way they have treated African Americans, and they will see that they are also a part of the country.

 

Breakdown Analysis of I, Too

Hughes utilizes free verse here. The poem is very brief, containing only five stanzas, two of which are only one line long.  In total, there are only eighteen lines to the work.  The simplicity of the poem, however, does not detract from the powerful message of the work.  Instead, it emphasizes it even more.

The first line of the poem, which is also the first stanza, says “I, too, sing America.”  The use of the pronoun “I” shows the reader that this is a very personal poem, and it can be inferred that our poet, Hughes, is also our speaker.  This is his anthem.  One cannot help but compare this line—and indeed, the entire poem—to another cherished American classic, Walt Whitman’s I Hear America Singing, written in 1867, where Whitman describes all sorts of Americans who collectively make up the song of America. Hughes seems to be telling Whitman that he has forgotten—either intentionally or not—to include the African American, who also plays a vital, albeit different, role in the country.

The second stanza, comprised of seven lines, is where the speaker identifies himself.  He writes, “I am the darker brother.”  It is in this line that the reader discovers that the poem’s speaker is probably African American, as he identifies himself by the color of his skin.  In the second line of this stanza, the speaker uses another pronoun, “they,” to separate himself from the country’s majority.  The third and fourth lines of the poem detail what the white majority does to the African American: “They send me to eat in the kitchen/When company comes.”  These two lines depict the conditions of separation and segregation of Black Americans.  Even after slavery was abolished in the States, many African Americans were still forced to work for the white man, and many of these men paid Black Americans to work in their houses as butlers, cooks, maids, and drivers. Hughes also seems to be calling out the hypocrisy African Americans are forced to endure.  Hughes calls himself a “brother,” and perhaps many whites have recognized the abolition of slavery, but they still do not want to be seen as equals to African Americans.  When company comes over, they force their Black “brothers” to hide away in the kitchen to eat by themselves.  Hughes is quick to let the reader know that hope is not lost.  In the last three lines of the second stanza, he writes, “But I laugh,/ And eat well,/ And grow strong.”  In spite of his treatment, the speaker refuses to be kept down.  He is still happy.  He is still healthy. And he is still able to grow, both physically and mentally.

The second stanza was written in the present tense, whereas the third stanza looks toward the future.  The eighth line of the poem simply reads “Tomorrow,” and the reader can assume the speaker does not literally mean tomorrow, but perhaps some time in the near future.  “Tomorrow,” the speaker says, “I’ll sit at the table/When company comes.”  The speaker is hopeful that he will not always be hidden away, and some day, he will be able to sit at the table with the other Americans. At some point, the speaker knows that the African American will finally be seen as the white man’s equal.

The fourth stanza, comprised of only three lines, is a continuation of the third.  Hughes takes the thoughts expressed in the third stanza one step further in the fourth.  Not only will he and other African Americans finally be seen as equal, but those who had oppressed them for hundreds of years will finally feel ashamed for what they did.  They will recognize the beauty and vitality of the African American and realize their wrongs.

Just as he began with a one-line stanza, Hughes ends his poem with one, as well.  He writes, “I, too, am America.”  While the first line could possibly represent the patriotism he feels as an American, this declaration is even stronger—he, too, is America. The use of this metaphor to end the poem has a very powerful result, and he is proclaiming to his reader that he is just as important as everyone else in the country, and he will not be denied.

 

Historical Analysis of I, Too

Hughes was born in 1902 and died in 1967, and during the span of his lifetime, he saw America grow and evolve when it came to equal rights for minorities.  Even though slavery had been abolished years before he was born, Hughes still encountered blatant racism and oppression as a Black man.  His writings often represent this oppression, and through his poetry, he fights the majority and sings the praises of his fellow African Americans.  Fortunately, Hughes lived long enough to see the Civil Rights Act of 1964 become law; however, the struggles of African Americans and other minority groups continue to exist in the United States today.

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