Langston Hughes’ poem ‘I, Too, Sing America’ is an incredibly personal poem Hughes wrote during the Harlem Renaissance. The poem expresses how he felt like an unforgotten American citizen 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 an African American.
Even though Hughes feels ostracized because of his race, he still sings like an American. Hughes turned to poetry to speak out against the blatant racism and oppression surrounding the Black community, 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.
Explore I, Too, Sing America
‘I, Too, Sing America,’ the speaker, 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.
Structure and Form
In ‘I, Too, Sing America,’ the poet Langston Hughes utilizes free verse. This means that the poet makes use of no rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. This adds a conversational feeling to the piece. 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. However, the simplicity of the poem does not detract from the powerful message of the work. Instead, it emphasizes it even more.
Throughout this piece, the poet makes use of several literary devices. For example:
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beignning of multiple words. For example:
- Allusion: can be seen when the poet references something that is outside the scope of the poem. In this case, Hughes alludes to the Civil Rights movement in the United States and themes like equality, identity, and more.
- Enjambment: can be seen when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines two and three of stanza two and lines four and five of stanza three.
I, too, sing America.
The first line of the poem, which is also the first stanza, says, “I, too, sing America.” 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.
I am the darker brother.
And grow strong.
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 calls out the hypocrisy African Americans are forced to endure. Hughes calls himself a “brother,” Perhaps many whites have recognized the abolition of slavery, but they still do not want to be seen as equals to African Americans.
When the company comes over, they force their Black “brothers” to hide 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.” Despite 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.
‘I, Too, Sing America’ was written in the present tense, whereas the third stanza looks toward the future. The eighth line of the poem reads “Tomorrow,” and the reader can assume the speaker does not literally mean tomorrow, but perhaps sometime soon. “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 someday, he will 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.
And be ashamed—
The fourth stanza, comprised of only three lines, continues 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 Americans and realize their wrongs.
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 represent patriotism, he feels like 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.
The tone is passionate. The poet is exploring a subject that is very close to his heart and is one of the, if not the, most important subjects in his body of work– racial segregation and inequality.
He explores themes like equality, oppression, and the Black experience. The poet taps into his own experience and that of men (and women) that he knows and expresses his desire to be treated the same as any other American.
The speaker is Langston Hughes himself. Or, readers can also interpret the speaker as any Black man living in the United States. Although the poem was written in the mid-1900s, it is still relatable to this day.
Hughes wrote this poem in order to express his personal experience as an American during his lifetime. He wanted to explore the equality, or lack thereof, in everyday American life. He is thinking about how he is treated as a citizen as well as a human being.
The meaning is that all men, women, and children, regardless of their race or gender, should be treated as equal citizens. Hughes is speaking for himself and for the Black community but, the poem can be meaningful to many different people.
The poet uses examples metaphors and imagery in ‘I, Too, Sing America‘. Hughes was an incredibly skilled writer who use his work to explore the experience of Black Americans. His use of figurative language only makes his work more impactful.
The poem ‘I, Too, Sing America’ is trying to make the point that all people no matter the color of their skin color should be treated equally. Hughes knows that “you” the intended listener, and the one who is metaphorically oppressing him and other Black Americans, will realize how “beautiful” he is and be “ashamed” of their actions.
Readers who enjoyed this piece should also consider reading some other Langston Hughes poems. For example:
- ‘Beale Street Love’ – a short, powerful poem that speaks on the nature of love on Beale Street, an African American cultural hub.
- ‘Dreams’ – focuses on the importance of dreams and how they might die.
- ‘Democracy’ – is focused on the fight for equal rights under the law including the ability to vote for African Americans.