Ballad of the Landlord Summary
Langston Hughes's Ballad of the Landlord is a poem that depicts the struggle of the oppressed in the modern age. In the poem, the tenant asks his landlord to fix the leaky roof and broken steps that make living in the apartment untenable. The landlord, in return, asks the tenant to pay his rent. The tenant refuses to pay until the necessary repairs are made to the property. An argument ensues in which the landlord threatens eviction and the tenant retaliates by threatening to punch the landlord. The landlord calls the police. They arrest the tenant, who is then jailed. A local newspaper runs a story on the incident in which the tenant is framed as the only one to blame.
The poem highlights the tenant's minority status and economic position as factors that contribute to the landlord's ability to do whatever he wants and get away without punishment. Although this poem was written in the early half of the twentieth century, tenants' rights and struggles continue to cause issues to this day. The relevance of the poem has continued to grow along with the wealth gap.
In this poem, a man attempts to speak with his landlord regarding things in his home that need to be fixed: his roof, the steps, and so on. Rather than address these issues, however, the landlord demands his rent money, which the tenant refuses to pay until the landlord will come and fix what is broken. At this, the landlord threatens to evict the tenant, to turn off the heat, to throw all the tenant's belongings out in the street, and so the tenant threatens to punch the landlord. Ultimately, the landlord calls the police and accuses the tenant of trying to ruin the government and overturn the rules of the land. The police come, the tenant is arrested, and he is thrown in jail. No one seems to care about the fact that the landlord wasn't doing his job and behaved wrongly: only the tenant is held responsible, and he didn't even actually do anything wrong.