Wednesday, August 31, 2011

True to Me

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“True to Me”


Born in 10, in Joplin, Missouri, Langston Hughes spent most of his first years with his grandmother (Britannica). He was not raised under the best of circumstances but, he was very ambitious. He attended public schools in Illinois and Kansas and then graduated from high school in Cleveland, Ohio, in 10. During the Harlem Renaissance ( The New Negro Movement) of the 10s and 10s, he went on to Columbia University in New York City, where he attended classes for one year (Britannica). An experience he had while attending Columbia, may have prompted him to write the poem, “Theme for English B”, years later.


The poem’s setting takes place at Columbia University’s Morningside Campus in the city of Harlem. The year, 14. A time where slavery is far behind, but no where near forgotten in the minds of Americans. Although Langston Hughes is the author of the famous poem, “Theme for English B”, the speaker is a year old black male student, who is given a seemingly simple assignment by his white English teacher, to write a paper which is true. The instructor said, “Go home and write a page tonight. And let that page come out of you�Then it will be true” (Hughes -5). Eager to begin his assignment, the young man waltzes home through the streets of Harlem, to the local YMCA which serves as his temporary residence, to gather his ideas. Once there, he sits and begins to wonder how he, a young African-American male, could possibly write something that the English teacher would consider to be true. He knows that being black will never make him white, and the English teacher being white could never be black. Then suddenly, it hits him. The simple fact that even though he and his instructor probably comes from two totally different neighborhoods, they most likely would enjoy the same things. So, he starts off by brainstorming with notes of who he is, where he lives, and what he likes. After all, this is as true to him as it should be, and therefore, worth writing about.


In the poem, the young man writes, “I like to eat, sleep, drink. And be in love. I like to work, read, learn, and understand life. I like a pipe for a Christmas present, or records�Bessie, bop, or Bach” (Hughes 1-4). These things are identifiable to all races. Maybe not so much the Bessie and bop music, but he certainly throws in Bach to show some kind of connection to music for the white people. The teacher would read this and see that the young man’s trueness is very similar to the instructor’s. This poem conveys an overwhelming sense of pride to me because although he seems to live in the ghetto and has very little money, he chose not to write a sob story about his misfortunes. Instead, he writes about all the good things in his life. This was a very good strategy on his part because he could have written about how poor he is, or that he has to live at the YMCA because he can’t afford an apartment, or that he has to walk half-way across town to get to a predominantly white college which sits high above the rest of the colored city of Harlem because he can not afford a car. I think that if he would have written a paper describing all of these terrible things, it would still deserve a good mark because it is all true of him. I understand this misfortune and realize that he is in a bad situation as far as his home life and then when he goes to school he has to deal with the intimidation of having the only colored face in the entire classroom. I would understand this because I am black. However I am not the instructor. I think if he would have written about all of the negatives, the instructor wouldn’t have been able to relate. He may have received a grade based just on the fact that he turned the assignment in on time.


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The young man demonstrates his ability to see things from the instructor’s point of view as well. He goes on by saying, “Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me. Nor do I want to be a part of you” (Hughes 4-5). In saying this, he is assuming that this is the instructor’s feelings as well. Although they must work together, he is certainly sure that the instructor does not want to be a part of him because the instructor is more than likely wealthy compared to the young man. However, the young man feels that although there is are huge differences in their societies, they can still learn from each other. One big difference the young man feels is the instructor’s freedom. He says, “ I guess you learn from me�although you are older�and white�and somewhat more free” (Hughes 8-40). As far as being older, the young man knows that with age comes more wisdom, but there is no way the instructor can have knowledge of what a young, Black, year old man feels unless he learns this directly from him. The verse also makes a reference to the fact that there was once slavery in place and that although it no longer exists, the older, White teacher is still more liberated than Blacks. I don’t think that he resents this fact. He just wants the teacher to know that he still lives with discrimination and unfairness and although the inequality exists, there are still many things in life that makes them both equal. Therefore, he should be graded just as equally for his paper as the students who wrote white papers.


Not only did the young man write this paper because it was assigned, he also wrote it with the intent to infuse a lesson for the teacher to learn as well. The end of the poem concludes the fact that we are all Americans. And with all of our indifference, this is what American is made of. No one race better than the other, and no one race more truer than the other. All races are living here together and we all must accept each other. In the year that the assignment was given, 14, the idea that we are all created equal was still a little hard to swallow for some. The young man doesn’t know how the teacher felt about him, but he seems to have some insight on the instructor’s position on race relations. So much so, that his assignment was written with a double meaning. We will never know what grade the young man received on his truly black paper. One can only hope that he was graded fairly on this assignment.


Langston Hughes knew, and suffered the effects of racial inequality. This fact is evident in this poem. Segregation and discrimination was not a good thing, but it has surely seemed to have a great influence on many African-American writers and poets who were determined to overcome hardships and voice those obstacles through literature .


This poem delicately shows the discrimination in his classroom at that time. It was not a mean-spirited act of purposely singling the young man out, it was just something that everyone was still trying to get used to in their own way. There is no room for discrimination in the field of education. Every race and culture can learn from others, and hopefully the instructor knew this before he gave the assignment. However, if he didn’t know this first, perhaps he knows it after reading the young man’s paper, “Theme for English B”.


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