Langston Hughes's poem "The Ballad of the Landlord" is a poem told in song form about a tenant (or tenants) complaining about the unfair housing practices suffered at the hands of the tenant's landlord.
This poem is interesting for many reasons, but particularly in its use of irony to demonstrate the injustices African Americans faced even in the Northern cities, where this poem seems to take place. First of all, the title "The Ballad of the Landlord" ironically paints this landlord as a victim (a ballad is a sad song and this is the landlord's ballad), even though the first five stanzas recount the tenant's struggle living in a unit where "the roof has sprung a leak" and the "steps is broken down."
Despite the clear injustices the tenant faces, the landlord comes off as victim in the public's eye when the frustrated black tenant threatens to "land his fist" on the landlord. The poem ends with three newspaper headlines that clearly paint the tenant as villain:
MAN THREATENS LANDLORD
TENANT HELD NO BAIL
JUDGE GIVES NEGRO 90 DAYS IN COUNTY JAIL!
There are many ways to look at this poem critically; perhaps the best way is from a social justice perspective. What is the best way for a black man without power to react? What responsibilities do those with power have? What about the media? What about the police?