Compare and contrast the two poems' images and themes of "Love Medicine" by Louise Erdrich and "Theme for English B" by Langston Hughes.

Expert Answers
booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Images support themes. Louise Erdich's "Love Medicine," and Langston Hughes' "Theme for English B," have similar themes, but the imagery is specific to each poem. The theme that strikes me most clearly deals with separation—alienation.

Langston's Hughes' poem, "Theme for English B," is a homework assignment. The poet writes about his truth. Hughes (if we assume he is the speaker) describes where he comes from, mentioning Harlem, and the Y (YMCA) where he has a room. The prevalent reference here is the connection between people that transcends color: Hughes knows others don't like it, and that he does not either, at times. People are put off, in this case, with being the "same."

Hughes is the only man of color in his class, and his truth is different than that of the other students.

Hughes' imagery points out much of what he has in common with others, and his list is "color-blind:" it does not pertain specifically to a person of any color; the items on his "list" are neutral—things  that most people enjoy:

Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love. 
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life. 
I like a pipe... 
or records... 
I guess being colored doesn't make me NOT like 
the same things other folks like who are other races.

Noticeable imagery occurs with the comparison of white and "colored" skin. Here the theme of separation is clearly presented. Hughes writes to the professor, stating that they will learn from one another—perhaps Hughes infers that true education defies a separation of "color."

The theme of separation is constant, supported by what is common to both races, and what is not. Hughes is alone in his separation.

Louise Erdrich's poem, "Love Medicine," has very different imagery, but the theme is the same.

Erdrich speak about her sister in this poem, and how she fits in better than the speaker (Louise?).

This dragonfly, my sister,

She belongs more than I

to this night of rising water.

"Dragonfly" may simply refer to Erdrich's sister's green halter and chains creating a green iridescence that catch the eye. However, in Native American culture, the dragonfly is symbolic, representing "a lesson to be learned" in examining these deeper thoughts. Erdrich may be looking for these especially because of what happens to her sister:

...she steps against the fistwork of a man...and his boot plants its grin / against the arches of her face.

The rising water may refer to a threat; the storm that brings it may generally refer to conflict. The sister leaves her man in his Dodge to walk about (he then "wears a long rut in the fog" looking for her), but is punched by a man—a different man (?!). The fog hides the violence. Erdrich does not see it, but she finds her sister afterward.

The images speak again of "separation." There is a separation between her sister and her man, between Erdrich and her sister, and between sense and confounding brutality.

For the sake of comparison, Hughes' speaks of his separation, and trying to understand it even while he and others have much in common.

Erdrich notes separation that strikes with cruelty.

However, when Erdrich repeats "I find her..." in the sixth stanza, this may indicate that the violence is occurring in other places to other women—she notes that the separation is wide-reaching. Perhaps when she refers to "sister," it means all women.

Erdrich's separation would then refer to abused women; Hughes' separation seems to refer to the that between races.

Read the study guide:
Love Medicine

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question