I, Too, Sing America, By Langston Hughes Essay

I, Too, Sing America, By Langston Hughes Essay

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“I, Too, Sing America,” by Langston Hughes, is a powerful declaration of African-Americans’ place in American society, both past and future. In this poem, Hughes asserts that he and every black American have as much claim to this country as anyone else, despite the efforts made to marginalize, oppress, and separate his race from the rest of society. The opening line of the poem, “I, too, sing America” (Hughes 1), is phrased in a brilliantly subtle manner to convey a tone of claiming something that has been kept from him. Interestingly, this is achieved by one little word: “too.” Say, for instance, that Hughes had chosen to open the poem with, “I sing America.” Comparatively, that would read as rather benign. The focus in the altered sentence is on America, rather than the speaker, and it is a statement that anyone – from any walk of life and at any time – could make. Alternatively, by saying, “I, too, sing America,” Hughes brings the focus of the line to the speaker in a way that says, “You are not the only one here. I am here and my voice matters.”
The next stanza of the poem reads, “I am the darker brother. / They send me to eat in the kitchen / When company comes, / But I laugh, / And eat well, / And grow strong” (Hughes 2-7), and outlines the growth and resilience of the black community in the face of their oppression. These lines can be taken literally, as they refer to the fact that slaves and, later, free black citizens were disallowed from sharing public spaces with white people and quite literally sent to the kitchen for their meals rather than allowed a place at the table. Sadly, Jim Crow laws were still in full swing at the time that Langston Hughes penned this poem. However, the stanza may also be read metaphoricall...


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...he poet takes his point one step further to declare that he is America. What is he trying to convey here? Primarily, Hughes is taking the abstract concept of the American “melting pot” and rooting it in concrete, real-life terms. After all, what is a country, if not the people who inhabit and shape it? The poet proclaims, in one beautifully simple sentence, that the lives and experiences of black Americans make up just as vital a component of the country as any other life and any other experience. At the time he wrote the poem, Hughes lived in a society in which white Americans claimed ownership of the country as well as the culture while pushing everyone else to the fringes. By saying, “I, too, am America,” Hughes sets the record straight and insists that African-Americans deserve – and claim – their rightful place at the large and diverse table of American society.

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