Langston Hughes Questions and Answers

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How would you analyze the verdict passed against the tenant in Langston Hughes's "Ballad of the Landlord"?

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Langston Hughes's "The Ballad of the Landlord" is told from the point of view of a black tenant living in a run-down apartment. The tenant asks the landlord to fix his roof because it's "sprung a leak" and the steps because they are so broken "[i]t's a wonder you don't fall down." While the point of view remains consistent for the first five stanzas, it shifts twice in the final two stanzas, first to the landlord's point of view and then to a third-person point of view.

Hughes creates these point-of-view shifts, particularly the shift into third-person in the final stanza, to show how blacks in America at this time are often seen as aggressors. This tenant, who is threatened with eviction for asking that his housing problems be remedied, has been mistreated for a long time and attempts to alleviate the situation peacefully before he loses his temper. Outsiders, especially the police and the media, do not see this building frustration. Instead, they see a black man who threatened his white landlord with violence.

The newspaper headline for the man's sentence for threatening the landlord reads, "JUDGE GIVES NEGRO 90 DAYS IN COUNTY JAIL!" This Draconian punishment is typical of prison sentences blacks received in the first half of the 20th century. According to the third-person narrator who is speaking in the final stanza, this punishment seems perfectly acceptable.

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