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Theme for English B begins by Hughes describing the specific instructions for an assignment given to him by an instructor. I feel the understanding of that assignment to be one of the major clues to the meaning of this piece of poetry.
"Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you-
Then, it will be true."
At my first glance of this poem I felt I had the idea Hughes was expressing down, but these instructions caught my eye. It grabbed my attention because I did not feel that the statement given by the instructor was necessarily true in itself. Since the instructor did not say "be true to you" at the end of this phrase, he was actually saying that whatever comes out of a person is true. Now in my lifetime I have found, early on as a matter of fact, that many thoughts that come from people are actually no true at all. This being my reasoning I was having a rather hard time moving on to the meat of the poem.
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First, I begin to think that the instructor surely meant to say "true to you". This makes good sense, for what a person feels and thinks and says often means much to them. Therefore, it becomes very true to them; however, many others might not care to hear their thoughts or feelings at all, yet they thoroughly enjoy hearing themselves talk about their own thoughts and feelings. However, after thinking this through I realized that an instructor of Hughes would have a level of intelligence great enough to construct his words in a way to mean exactly what he wanted to say.
Next, I begin to ask myself what truth actually is. Does truth only include a single reality or can it include many alternate personal realities wherein only an absolute morality is constant. By holding to the latter, truth can then take many different shapes depending on the particular life situation of each individual. Even though this is a thought worth expounding, after I begin to think about it more deeply I began to experience physical pain. So, I decided to read the poem again.
After reading the poem once more I began to see the obvious. This was the same question Hughes asked and somewhat answered, and is also the basic meaning to the poem. I also found, contrary to my thinking earlier, that I did not have the basic meaning to this poem figured out, but what I was actually calling the basic meaning was really an internal observation which was only part of the basic meaning. Since I had missed so much even after my first six readings, I decided to read the poem yet again
In trying to understand poetry I feel the major keys to success to be: understanding who the poet was, reading upon reading of the poem, trying to understand the poets use of particular words, and the poets use of punctuation. I feel the last of these to be of utmost importance in this poem. If one scans this poem quickly he (or she to politically correct) notices that Hughes uses two consecutive dashes in several places throughout the poem. These dashes are one of if not the major key to understanding the poem.
..."But I guess I'm what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me--we two--you, me talk on this page.
(I hear New York, too.) Me--who?
Here if we look at the first set of dashes they contain "we two" and the second set contain "who?" preceded by "Me". In other words I feel that Hughes is saying that he is part of Harlem and Harlem being part of New York means that he is also part of New York. Then moving on to the next set of dashes we see the phrase "Bessie, bop, Bach". Three types of music are presented here: blues, bebop, and what we now call classical. Two of these types are stereotypically black and one is white. In other words his music is even influenced by an outside culture (or force). Then in the next set he shows us what it means to be American which is taking in the culture and ideas of other people and inevitably making it part of your own.
In conclusion this poem answers the question of what is true. It is not simply what is you because you are not even completely you. You are a body full of the thoughts and ideas of others, which you have attempted to mold and make your own in some way or another. The only true thing according to this poem is knowing this fact and not enjoying the reality behind it.