Langston Hughes wrote “Theme for English B” in 1949. ‘English’ in the poem is emblematic of comprehensiveness, universality and cultural integration. The poem is a satirical take on the grading system with regard to individuals; and utilizes the vernacular as a potent metaphor to emphasis this. Hughes uses language, certain rhythm and structure to relay the bias to writing a poem on oneself due to the connotation that comes with race. The English language in question, English B, is emphasized as a level of English that is below the regular English A.
In this context, the poet voices that the whites consider themselves to be the original inhabitants or true, as opposed to the blacks who were treated as secondary citizens. Parts of “Theme for English B” rhyme and other parts do not. The introduction to the poem starts with the poet paraphrasing the instructor’s orders: “Go home and write/a page tonight. And let that page come out of you/then it will be true.
” The speaker asks, “I wonder if it’s that simple? ” The rest of the stanza in his voice, which is African-American, does not rhyme.The poem concludes with rhyming lines which end with “me” and “free,” and the last line: “This is my page for English B. ” the vicissitudes in the rhyme pattern is representative of how language defines the supposed “quality” of the assignment. Furthermore, the shift in rhyme accentuates the metaphor of how this page is a representation of him and therefore how the different vernacular and rhyme are illustrative of how he is an amalgam of culture, neither stereotypically black, nor a white duplicate, but a contemporary blend of the two.
In the poem, he lists facts about himself. This list is ingeniously written because Hughes subtly equates himself as first, a human being, then a normal man- just like any other- and finally as a man with good taste in terms of music and possessions “I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love. / I like to work, read, learn, and understand life/ like a pipe for a Christmas present/ or records—Bessie, Bop, or Bach” (Hughes 21-23).He also states things that set him apart from his classmates, including the fact that he is the only African American man in his class and that he resides in Harlem (Hughes 10-11). By conveying his commonality, despite the superficial issue of race, Hughes depicts his plight of figuring out who he is as an individual, but also as a man trying to fit into society. He is both a part of Harlem and a part of a mostly white English class: “I guess I’m what / I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you” (Hughes 17-18).While he holds onto his African American culture, he also acknowledges that it does not define him as a person: “I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like / the same things other folks like who are other races” (Hughes 25-26). Hughes concludes that although he is different from his peers in some ways, they are all Americans with common likes and purposes. The “page” therefore works as a viable and profound metaphor for cultural integration.