Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 301
"The Ballad of the Landlord" is a political and social-realist poem by the African American poet and social activist Langston Hughes. At the time it was set, in the 1930s, people were regularly protesting against high rents and evictions. For example there was the Great Rental strike of 1932 in the Bronx New York where local tenants refused to pay rent until the landlords reduced their rents by 15%. This poem outlines exactly why such drastic measures were needed.
The poem starts with the tenant complaining of all the things wrong with his house. His roof is leaking and his steps are broken.
My roof has sprung a leak . . .
. . . Landlord, landlord,
These steps is broken down.
The tenant's way of speaking, particularly his grammatical errors, paint him as uneducated and poor. As the poem continues, the reader sees the powerless position this puts him in in this situation. When the landlord threatens him with eviction
What? You gonna get eviction orders?
You gonna cut off my heat?
You gonna take my furniture and
Throw it in the street?
Beating the landlord up is only action the tenant feels is available to him. We already know from earlier in the poem that he has told the landlord about the problems before.
Don’t you ’member I told you about it
Way last week?
The poem ends with the tenant going to prison for hitting the landlord. The short hard hitting sentences that follow, describing the process of the man's imprisonment, show just how quickly and harshly society judges him.
As the newspaper headlines show: when it comes to the poor against the rich there is only one winner and one truth.
MAN THREATENS LANDLORD
TENANT HELD NO BAIL
JUDGE GIVES NEGRO 90 DAYS IN COUNTY JAIL.
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