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What is the poet's point of view in "Oppression" by Langston Hughes?

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Bruce Bergman eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The poem, "Oppression," epitomizes "the gentle but insistent protest that runs through Hughes’s poems" (eNotes) and this stands as a good summation of the poem's point of view. 

The point of view in this poem is difficult to describe as we might describe the point of view of a work of fiction. There are no characters and so no way to determine the narrator's relationship to the characters and the story being told.

As it is, there is no "story" presented in the poem -- no narrative. Instead, the poem consists of two statements. The result is that we can describe the value-oriented point of view of the poet but not necessarily the literary point of view

The first statement made in the poem concerns a negative, current situation. 

Now dreams
Are not available
To the dreamers,
Nor songs
To the singers.

The effect of oppression is implicitly contrary to nature and even to logic. Oppression is presented here as a force that severs natural relationships, going against the natural order. Were the world free from oppression, songs would be available to the singers and dreams would be available to the dreamers.

How can singers exist without songs and dreamers without dreams? The logical contradiction of song-less singers and dreamless dreamers is a direct product of oppression and, in the poem, functions as a metaphor expressing the powerful disruption caused by oppression in the lives and in the sense of being of those who are oppressed. 

The second statement of the poem takes the form of promise or prophecy. While assessing this statement as hopeful may be skewing the poem too far toward a positive reading, the comment being made is at least affirmative. 

But the dream
Will come back,
And the song
Its jail.

The unnatural state of affairs brought about by oppression cannot last. The schism that would separate the song from the singer will be, itself, broken and an integral sense of being might return for those who have suffered under oppression. A chance to enact the beauties of the spirit (as symbolized by songs/singing) will be made possible and a chance to hope (as symbolized by dreams/dreaming) will also be made possible. 

The value-oriented point of view is then one of resistance to oppression and an affirmation of an inevitable failure of a system of oppression. This is a socially conscious point of view and may be called also a political point of view. 

In literary terms, the point of view can be most closely described as "first person" as the poet seems to speak directly through/with the poem, but this argument might leave out the possibility that the poet is using a posture, assumed voice, assumed character or figurative role for the narration of the poem. 

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The poet's point of view in the poem is someone who is voicing the need for reality to be constructed as it should be as opposed to how it is.  One can even presume that it is Hughes, himself, speaking.  The speaker of the poem is one whose point of view is fundamentally progressive.  He believes in the authenticity of his beliefs and the idea that change is possible.  The first stanza articulates how reality is constructed to deny the possibility of dreams that liberate and allow individual freedom.  The emotional frame of reference is undeniable in the second stanza when the speaker clearly envisions a world that is vastly different from what its current construction is.  The idea that the "song will break its jail" and that the dream "will come back" reveals the fundamental progressvisism of the speaker, the root belief that change is possible and not something that is entirely possible in the current setting.  While there is much to indicate that it might not be possible, the point of view of the poet is to suggest that change is possible, dreams can exist, and oppression can end.

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