Langston Hughes’ poem ‘I, Too, Sing America’ 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.
In ‘I, Too, Sing America’, 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.
Langston Hughes’ poem, ‘I, Too, Sing America’, can be read in full here.
Analysis of I, Too, Sing America
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
I, too, sing America.
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.
I am the darker brother.They send me to eat in the kitchenWhen company comes,But I laugh,And eat well,And grow strong.
Tomorrow,I’ll be at the tableWhen company comes.Nobody’ll dareSay to me,“Eat in the kitchen,”Then.
Besides,They’ll see how beautiful I amAnd be ashamed—
The Final Line
I, too, am America.
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.
Langston 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.