What are the messages we get from this poem?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Ballad of the Landlord” is a poem written by American poet Langston Hughes. This poem is written in the first person. The narrator is getting increasingly frustrated with his landlord, as he feels that his landlord is not doing what he should be doing as a landlord. Whilst, at first glance, this poem appears to mainly deal with the conflict between a lazy landlord and his frustrated tenant, the true significance of this poem is only revealed in the very last line of the poem: “JUDGE GIVES NEGRO 90 DAYS IN COUNTY JAIL!” It is only at this point that the reader finds out that the narrator of the poem is of black origin.

Suddenly, as a result of this very last line, the whole poem can be seen in a totally different light. It turns out that the poem is not at all simply about a conflict between a landlord and a tenant—it is about the conflict between a white landlord and black tenant. The poem reflects very poignantly the situation of black people at the time. The landlord is clearly not doing what he should be doing, despite his tenant’s requests for help. When the tenant finally loses his temper and punches the landlord, however, the newspaper headlines only focus on the fact that a black person hit a white person. They completely ignore the fact that the landlord had been wrong in the events preceding this.

Therefore, the message of the poem is that as a black person, you will always be treated as the culprit, even if you were treated badly first. As far as the poet is concerned, there is no real justice for black people, because white people will simply always look down on black people and will always put the blame on them.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial