The two authors, Langston Hughes and Sterling Brown, both have earned the right to be included in the same category as white poets. They were both very important members of the Harlem movements. This movement is defined as a style that compares the similarities of the two different races, back and white. Both poets are considered dominant black poets and their works consist of day-to-day life of a typical African American man. These two poets discuss in very different ways the differences between white men and black men of their time.
In “Theme for English B”, the writer (Langston Hughes) is assigned to write a page about himself. The instructor wanted him to do this because he thought whatever the student chose to write about would be the true self of that student. Hughes writes ‘Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love. I like to work, read, learn and understand life. I’d like a pipe for a Christmas present, or records- Bessie, bop, or Bach. ’ (Hughes, 2036). This list consist of normal everyday things that people appreciate in life no matter what race or culture they are from.
By listing these things he is trying to show the instructor that he is not much different than any white man who would be writing this paper but also he is pointing out that there are some recognizable small differences between the white student and black student. The first stanza discusses his routine for that day which includes going to college, walking through the streets of Harlem, and finally arriving at the Harlem Y, where he lives, to write this page. In this poem he starts out subtle and eventually eases into the comparison of the black man verses the white man.
Hughes strategy to get his message across to his instructor is to first allow the instructor to learn a little bit about him. This helps the instructor to put a face with to work so that he will be able to see where Hughes is coming from and be more intrigued by the story of his life. This is a good description of what Harlem age poetry is all about, the ability to let the readers relate to writer as well as to make them like what the writer is writing about. The way that Hughes compares himself against the instructor is very unusual for a black student talking to his white professor. 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’ (Hughes, 236). This shows the instructor that if Hughes were to really be true about whom he is as a person then he would have to put his poem on colored paper because he is not white and would be being untrue if he wrote on white paper.
The end of Hughes poem continues the comparison between whites and blacks and their similarities and differences. ‘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 are older-and white- and somewhat more free. This is my page for English B’ (Hughes, 2037). Hughes addresses the fact that sometimes the two races would prefer not to be part of one another but there is nothing that can be done about it and the two are indeed the same.
The Harlem movement is all about expanding the writing styles of that day and Hughes shows this in “Theme for English B” with the frankness of this statement about black culture and where the black man stands in society. We also see the comparison between blacks and whites in Sterling Brown’s poem “Mister Samuel and Sam”. In this poem, each stanza starts off by a difference between the white man and the black man and is followed by a similarity of the two. For example, ‘Mister Samuel ride in a Cadillac, Sam ride in a Tin Lizzie Fo’d; Both spend their jack fo’ gas an’ oil, An’ both git stuck on de road. ’ (Brown, 2022).
This means that the white man, Mister Samuel, might drive a Cadillac and the black man, Sam, might drive Tin Lizzie’ Ford but they will both spend their money on the same things, gas and oil, and they will both get stuck in the mud. Another example in the poem of the similarities and differences between races is a when the author talks about the finances of Mister Samuel and Sam. ‘Mister Samuel deal wid high finance, Sam deal in a two-bit game; Mister Samuel crashes, Sam goes broke, But deys busted jes’ de same’ (Brown, 220) compares how the finances are much lower of the black man compared to the white man.
This stanza continues by providing the similarities between the men. It discusses how both the white man and the black man experience financial downfall as a result. Both Brown and Hughes show the similarities and differences of white men and black men from two different angles and they allow the reader to compare races in different ways. They both show styles of writings that were expressed by poets of the Harlem movement.
Langston Hughes was not afraid to tackle the biggest issues on his world head on—and that's just what he does in "Theme for English B."
Hughes grew up in a world where black people were subjected to a constant and huge amount of discrimination. But rather than give up in frustration in the face of enormous adversity, Hughes joined and helped to lead the Harlem Renaissance. This group of black writers and artists in New York City exploded with creativity, and helped spur the Civil Rights Movement.
So when Hughes writes this poem, which is told from the point of view of a young black student, he's connecting an individual's struggles with the struggle of an entire race. Published in 1949—when Hughes was already a well-respected writer and major voice of his time—the poem is a powerful look at how a black student might relate to (and not relate to) his white professor. The greatness of this poem, though, is that it goes beyond the question of race: it applies to any human being who has ever wondered about the nature of his or her own identity.
Have you ever stopped to wonder, hey now, just exactly who am I? Where do I fit in the world? And could I ever put all that makes up what that craziness I call my "self" is into words?
Well, these are the some of the questions that the speaker of "Theme for English B," struggles with, except the world in which he was asking these questions was in tumult. The speaker of this poem is becoming a black adult in a racist world. Langston Hughes himself graduated from adolescence at the height of the Harlem Renaissance, so he knows about coming of age in a changing, crazy world.
So take how much thinking about your identity makes your head spin. Multiply it by at least 10, because of the generally messed-up environment in which the speaker of this poem lived. Then pull up "Theme for English B," and marvel at the artful way Hughes really gets to the heart of this young individual's place in the world. It just might help you get a better grasp of your "self," too.