Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Influenced by the nineteenth century American poet Walt Whitman and the early twentieth century American poets Vachel Lindsay and Carl Sandburg, Hughes’s poetry focuses on the lives and the struggle of African Americans for racial equality. Marked with melancholic passivity, concealed outrage, and finally a transcendence that is repeatedly an assertion of black worth, history, and beauty, Hughes’s poetry supports his claim that he is the “poet laureate of the negro race.” Unafraid to write about the controversial or the uncomfortable, and passionate about embracing his heritage, Hughes’s poetic structure (the blues form) gave voice to those who had never been given the chance to speak. “Mulatto” is an enduring example of Hughes’s poetic achievement.

The narrator in the opening line claims he is the son of a “white man.” Because the father is identified by race rather than by name, readers know the poem is not just a straightforward presentation of a family drama, but an examination of race relations in the American South, a setting confirmed in the second line, which tells readers of a “Georgia dusk.” The omniscient narrator says that “One of the pillars of the temple fell,” alluding to the two pillars the ancient Hebrew king Solomon erected as symbols of God’s promises of support to the people of Israel. People of faith who passed between the pillars were reminded of the presence and strength of God. When the poet says that...

(The entire section is 478 words.)

Mulatto Themes

Racism and Discrimination
Although slavery was technically illegal after the American Civil War, racism and discrimination were...

(The entire section is 924 words.)