illustrated portrait of American poet and author Langston Hughes

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What is the subject and conflict in Langston Hughes's "Madam and the Rent Man"?

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In "Madam and the Rent Man," the subject and conflict are one in the same. It is an argument between a tenant and a rent collector. The tenant, or Madam, is refusing to pay her rent because of several problems in her house, including plumbing not working and rats infesting the cellar.

The rent collector insists that he is in no way responsible for maintenance or even requesting that maintenance be done. His only responsibility is to simply collect the rent. This brings the conflict to a stalemate, as Madam refuses to pay the rent until the problems are resolved. The poem illustrates the plight of the poor in the face of tangled bureaucracy. It seems that the tenant will never have her problems resolved, as anyone she talks to will simply pass the buck to someone else.

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The subject of this poem actually is the conflict between the two voices.  The speaker is "Madame" and she is in conflict with "the Rent Man."  He is there to collect rent but she refuses to pay.  Several problems exist in the apartment, including broken sink, squeaky floor, rats, and leaks.  Madame is angry that things have not been fixed, but the real problem lies in the fact that the "Rent Man" is not actually the one responsible for fixing anything. He's simply there to collect the money.  The real problem is that Madame's complaints are not even reaching the right person, or if they are, nothing is being done and she is powerless.

Likely this is a picture of a common situation that speaks honestly and ironically of a bigger picture issue: the inability of blacks and whites to communicate because whites were unwilling to listen.

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