Please explain the poem "I, Too, sing America."

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I have always read Hughes' poem as a type of response to one of his favorite authors', Walt Whitman.  Whitman's poem of "I Hear America Singing," is one thast stresses the greatness and promises of America.  It is told from a point of view which reflects a narrative of happiness and joy.  It is also told from a majority point of view.  Hughes' poem speaks of the same nation, but is told from the point of view of someone who suffers discrimination and prejudice.  In Hughes' poem, the song that is sung there is one that reflects that hardship of being Black in America.  The idea of being told to go somewhere "when company comes," or the negation of voice is a part of the American identity that people of color, specifically African- Americans, must endure.  This is in stark contrast to the overwhelming positive vision that Whitman puts forth.  In Hughes poem, the notion of his song is rooted in the idea that there is hope for integration, for allowing America to recognize its problems.  Yet, one way or another, Hughes suggests that songs will be sung by everyone who is in America, narratives that have to reflect both the Whitman hope and the Hughes reality.

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