illustrated portrait of American poet and author Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes

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In what ways does Langston Hughes use humility to influence how black Americans are perceived?

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Poet Langston Hughes was a cardinal figure during the Harlem Renaissance. So, in analyzing Hughes's humility, let's look at two of his most famous poems: "I, Too" and "Let America Be America Again."

First, let's examine how "I, Too" humbly teaches non-black Americans that black Americans also matter. The speaker starts off the poem with a nice, easy sentence:

I, too, sing America.

This song is first sung in the kitchen. The "darker brother," as the speaker calls African Americans, must eat in the kitchen. His being in the kitchen connotes servitude. This "darker brother" could have said, "No! I refuse to be in the kitchen as a slave." He could have fought back, but no, he doesn't. Instead, he humbly acknowledges his current place in the world, while planning for a better tomorrow. In the meantime, he "laugh[s]," "eat[s] well," and "grow[s] strong." At the end of the poem, the speaker repeats the first line, which reminds the reader that African Americans also matter. This is a good segue into the second poem.

"Let America Be America Again" humbly reminds African Americans that, as Americans, they have a responsibility to encourage America to be as it should: a home for everyone. In the opening stanza, the speaker says to let America "be the dream it used to be." That "dream" is what people like John Winthrop, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King Jr. all fought for. It's what we now call the American dream. In Hughes's poem, the speaker says that African Americans have a right to partake in the American dream.

However, the speaker says so humbly. He reminds the reader that African Americans are no different from any other type of American. He does this by gently relating the word "Negro" with other words, like "poor white," "red man," "farmer," and "worker." In fact, the speaker relates all Americans as one people: "the people" (emphasis added). The speaker never directly says that African Americans are equal to everyone else in America. Yes, this is essentially what he's saying, but instead, he thinks before he speaks. He doesn’t want to offend. So, he humbles himself and indirectly suggests that no American's life is perfect, but we all have a right to help make America as those like Winthrop, Lincoln, and King saw it.

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