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I have to describe the tone for the poem "Theme for English B" by Langston...

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sk8in-fo-life | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 5, 2008 at 4:00 AM via web

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I have to describe the tone for the poem "Theme for English B" by Langston Hughes? And I dont understand the concept of descibing the tone..

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ms-mcgregor | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted September 5, 2008 at 6:20 AM (Answer #1)

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Tone is the author's attitude toward his subject. That attitude will often shift within a piece of literature. In the case of "Theme for English B", Hughes first attitude towards his assignment to "Go home and write a page tonight. And let that page come out of you.. . " seems to be somewhat bemused and perplexed. It's obvious his instructor thinks this is a simple assignment. Hughes is sure it isn't. Look for lines that suggest that idea. Hughes does not think it's "easy to know what is true for you [the instructor] or me." He sees the dichotomy between himself and his instructor. ( He's black and the instructor is white). Yet he also sees that they are the same in many ways and learn from each other. He then begins an ironic tone when he states, "So, will my page be colored that I right?" and he ends with the irony that "I guess you learn from me--although you're older--and white--and somewhat more free."

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lit24 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

Posted September 5, 2008 at 12:26 PM (Answer #2)

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'Tone' in a poem deals with the perspective and the view point of the poet.

Langston Hughes' tone in this poem "Theme for English B" could be described as 'mildly ironical' as he reveals his difficulty in sincerely expressing his own feelings at the instruction of his white English tutor. The irony is that although he begins by saying "I wonder if it's that simple," by the end of the poem, however, he has succeeded in doing just that in a very effective manner: "This is my page for English B."

His true inner self is madeup of two contrasting aspects: 1.He is a black and hence diferent from his white English instructor. 2. He is an American just like every other American, including his white English instructor. Hughes' adopts a conciliatory tone which synthesises the difference: "you are white--/Yet a part of me, as I am part of you/That's American...That's true."

However, the poem ends on a tone of regret: "somewhat more free." The poem was written by Langston Hughes in 1951 when racial discrimination had peaked. Only after Martin Luther King's Civil Rights' Movement of the 60s there was an improvement in the relationship between the whites and blacks.

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