Theme for English B

Theme for English B

by Langston Hughes

The instructor said,

      Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you—
Then, it will be true.

I wonder if it’s that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:

It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. 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?

Well, 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.
I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That’s American.
Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that’s true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—
although you’re older—and white—
and somewhat more free.

This is my page for English B.

Summary of Theme for English B

  • Popularity of “Theme for English B”: Langston Hughes, one of the renowned American poets, novelist and playwright wrote Theme for English B. It is a remarkable poem about the acute realization of racial segregation. It was first published in 1951. The poem speaks about the narrator’s quest for identity in a constantly changing world. It illustrates how he skilfully connects his simple English assignment to his life.
  • “Theme for English B”, As a Representative of Self: This poem is about the speaker’s attitude, interests, and background. The professor asks the narrator to write a page about himself. The speaker begins his assignment, providing some necessary autobiographical details because he wants true. After talking about his age, academic history and identity, he unveils a crucial reality that he is the only colored student in his class. He believes people belonging to different casts, color and identities share common interests. Also, he writes that his assignment will not fully represent him. Willingly or unwillingly, they both influence each other. In this way, all of his doubts, questions, and hesitations become his page for English B.
  • Major Themes in “Theme for English B”: Identity, creativity, and racism are major themes of this poem. Right from the beginning, the black speaker struggles to come up to the expectations of his white professor. Although there is a divide between the speaker and his professor, yet he writes about his experiences and likes to present his true character in his assignment. At first, he is a bit nervous as he feels indifferent. However, he realizes that his likes and interests are similar to the people belonging to other races, which makes him confident. The speaker establishes a ground reality that America is a land of diversity and people influence each other regardless of their identities and skin color.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in “Theme for English B”

Literary devices such as similes, personifications, and metaphors are very important elements of a literary text. They bring richness to the text and help the readers understand the hidden meanings. Langston Hughes has also used figurative language to explain the effects of racism. Here is the analysis of some literary devices used in this poem.

  1. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line. For example, the sound of /r/ in “I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem” and the sound of /n/ in “Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y”.
  2. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line. For example, the sound of /i/ in “I like a pipe for a Christmas present”.
  3. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line in quick succession. For example, the sound of /b/ in “or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach” and the sound of /h/ in “I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you”.
  4. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example,up to my room, sit down, and write this page”, “This is my page for English B” and “So will my page be colored that I write.”
  5. Rhetorical Question: Rhetorical question is a statement that is asked to receive an answer. It is just posed to make the point clear. For example, “I wonder if it’s that simple?”
  6. Personification: Personification is to give human qualities to inanimate objects. For example, “And let that page come out of you.”
  7. Anaphora: It refers to the repetition of a word or expression in the first part of some verses. Here, ‘part of you’ is repeated in the final stanza.

“Yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That’s American.
Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.”

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “Theme for English B”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this rhyme.

  1. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are four stanzas in this poem, each varies in length.
  2. Quintet: A quintet is a five-lined stanza in poetry. Here, first stanza is quintet .
  3. Free Verse: Free Verse is a type of poetry that does not contain patterns of rhyme or meter. This is a free-verse poem with no strict rhyme or meter.

Quotes to be Used

The lines stated below are suitable for a speech while teaching unity and talking about the common interests and likes of the people across the globe.

I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.”