What type of tone do you think Hughes wanted to get across in "Theme for English B"?

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

The tone, or attitude, of Langston Hughes in his "Theme for English B" is rather bemused and lightly ironic.  After being instructed to write a page that comes out of him that will be true, Hughes thinks, "I wonder if it's that simple!"  Of course, the greatest irony is in the poet's wonder if he can write a page that his white instructor will understand, and yet he ends his poem with the assignment completed:  "This is my page for English B."

Despite his bemusement, Hughes writes a page that is "true" as he bemusedly reflects

I guess being colored doesn't make me not like

the same things other folks like who are other races....

Being me, it [the page] will not be white,

But it will be

a part of you, instructor,

You are white--

yet a part of me, as I am a part of you,

That's American.

At this point, the poem's tone turns to ironical regret since Hughes's poem was written in 1951, a time at which racial discrimination peaked.  Hughes points to this disparateness of his instructor and himself: 

Sometimes perhaps you don't want to be a part of me.

Nor do I often want to be a part of you.

But we are, that true!

As I learn from you,

I guess you learn from me--- 

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

To me, the tone of this poem is one of searching and uncertainty.  It is the tone of a young man who is trying to figure out his identity.  He is a young person (always a time of trying to figure out who you are) and he is also troubled by the question of how his race affects who he is.  He is unsure of the extent to which being black makes him the same as or different from any other Americans.

In the poem, the speaker conveys a sense or tone of being unsure as to who he is and to how he fits in to the society in which he and his professor and everyone else lives.

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