Sojourner Truth

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How would you compare and contrast the poems "Ain't I a Woman?" by Sojourner Truth, and "Let America Be America Again" by Langston Hughes?

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Both poems call for change. "Ain't I a Woman?" calls for women to turn the world the "right side up again," and "Let America Be America Again" calls for America to return to being a land of equality and opportunity, where "never kings connive nor tyrants scheme" or "any man be crushed by one above."

Both poems also explore the plight of racism. In "Ain't I a Woman?" Truth speaks of the children she has seen "sold off to slavery," and of bearing "de lash" of a slave master. In "Let America Be America Again" Hughes speaks about how his ancestors were violently "torn from Black Africa's strand."

Both poems are also written in the first-person perspective, from the point of view of someone who has been disenfranchised and alienated, and denied the rights and opportunities that America prides itself upon. Sojourner Truth is writing as an African American woman in the early nineteenth century, born into slavery. Langston Hughes is writing as an African American man in the middle of the twentieth century. Both Truth and Hughes would have suffered racism, and both campaigned against it.

Stylistically, there are several other similarities between the poems. Both, for example, use repetition to emphasize their main points. Truth repeats the rhetorical question, "And ar'n't I a woman?" at the end of four out of the first five stanzas. The question is intended to highlight the difference between what society expects of and for a woman on the one hand, and what Truth herself is capable of and has experienced on the other. Society, for example, says that women are the weaker sex, and "dat womin needs to be helped into carriages." Truth replies by exclaiming that she has "ploughed, and planted," and yet she is a woman.

Hughes also uses repetition when he repeats the phrase "I am the." He declares that he is "the poor white, fooled and pushed apart," and the "red man driven from the land," and also the "Negro bearing slavery's scars." The implication here is that Langston considers himself an American and, therefore, feels the pain that each American feels, regardless of race.

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Both Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I A Woman?" and Langston Hughes's "Let America Be America Again" discuss the oppression of specific marginalized groups and beg for freedom. One difference between the two is that Truth's poem specifically addresses the oppression of women and African-American women, whereas Hughes's poem addresses the oppression of all marginalized groups besides women.

Truth's poem opens by talking about the special treatment women receive from gentlemen because they are considered the weaker sex, including being "helped into carriages," carried over ditches, lifted over mud puddles, and being given the "best place." The speaker points out, though, that she is not given this much respect even though she, too, is a woman. The speaker's rhetorical question found in the refrain — "And ain't I a woman?" — serves to emphasize the fact that, due to her African descent, the narrator is not treated as having equal status with other women. Her references to inequality serve to protest against the injustices suffered by marginalized African Americans, especially African-American women.

Truth does not focus entirely on the oppression experienced by African-American women. By the seventh stanza, Truth notes the belief held by men over the ages that women are not equal to men:

Then that little man in black there say
a woman can't have as much rights as a man
cause Christ wasn't a woman.

The speaker then continues to point out the logical fallacy of that man's claim. By pointing out how illogical it is that all women are considered unequal to all men, the speaker is also protesting against the marginalization of all women, not just African-American women.

Similarly, when Hughes states, "America never was America to me," the speaker protests against the lack of liberties in America due to the oppression of the marginalized. In one stanza, Hughes sets out to list the marginalized he is acting as the voice of:

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

Since Hughes does not specifically mention women as a marginalized group seeking freedom, it can be said that one difference between his and Truth's poem is that Truth's poem speaks of the oppression of women, whereas Hughes's poem speaks of the oppression of men in other marginalized groups.

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