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Summarize the poem "Madam and Her Madam" by Langston Hughes.

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The poem "Madam and Her Madam" by Langston Hughes explores the strained relationship between Alberta, a black domestic worker, and her wealthy white employer through first-person narration. Alberta is burdened with excessive household tasks, from cleaning a twelve-room house to cooking and childcare, without adequate appreciation or help. Despite her employer's superficial declarations of love, Alberta's response highlights the hypocrisy and her emotional detachment, driven by the overwhelming workload and lack of genuine support.

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"Madam and her Madam" utilizes irony to convey the delicate conflict between a wealthy white woman and the black woman, Alberta, she uses to complete the many tasks of the household. Hughes employs the voice of a black woman in this poem, using first person narration to allow the reader inside the inner struggle of the plight of many black women of this era.

The poem begins by noting that Alberta, doesn't work for a mean woman; likely the wealthy woman is oblivious to the amount of work it takes to complete the tasks she assigns. She has never had to do the work herself. Cleaning a twelve-room house at the time the poem was set, before the civil rights era, also indicates a great deal of wealth; this would have been an extremely large house for this time period. The speaker is tasked with cooking all meals for the family and for taking care of all the children. She takes care of all the laundry of each family member (without a washer) and is even responsible for making sure the dog is walked to get enough exercise.

It is too much.

The speaker breaks. She finally confronts her white employer about the workload but is careful to do it with a sense of humor, asking if she is trying to make a "workhorse" out of her. Written far before the civil rights era, the speaker is aware that she could face danger if she utilizes an improper tone.

The tone of the white woman is a dramatic dismissal. She "cries" that she loves Alberta but offers no further assistance for her work. And of course she is thankful for Alberta; after all, it is through Alberta's work that she is able to enjoy a life of great leisure.

In the end, we hear the speaker's voice as she tells her employer,

But I’ll be dogged
If I love you!

One has to imagine that these lines were delivered with the same tone of humor because an outright confrontation would not have been a wise delivery. She thus conveys her frustration and makes her employer aware of her need for additional employees or a reduction in the workload by using the same dramatic, yet ironically honest, tone, mimicking her employer.

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In the poem "Madam and Her Madam" by Langston Hughes, the narrator is an African American servant named Alberta who works extremely hard for an employer, presumably white, who does not appreciate her efforts. This is one of a series of poems that Hughes wrote with the main character of Alberta, also known as Madam. The title can ironically be interpreted as the first Madam being either Alberta or her employer, depending on the reader's perspective.

In the first stanza, Alberta points out that her employer is not mean. By this, we understand that she is not blatantly nasty or physically or verbally abusive. Her problem is that she does not comprehend what Alberta goes through. For instance, one of Alberta's responsibilities is to clean a 12-bedroom house.

Housecleaning, though, is only one of Alberta's chores. In the second stanza, we find out that she also cooks three meals a day and takes care of her employer's children. In the third stanza, we discover that she has to do the laundry and walk the dog. Understandably, Alberta declares that the workload is overwhelming for her, and she almost suffers a breakdown.

In the fourth stanza, Alberta voices her complaint by accusing her employer of making a packhorse out of her. In other words, her employer is piling so much work upon her that it is like an overwhelming burden that a packhorse might carry.

In the fifth stanza, Alberta's employer responds, and in her response, she exposes her hypocritical attitude. Rather than lift Alberta's load of work by hiring more help or even doing some of it herself, she expresses her love for Alberta. It is obviously an insincere love, because she is unwilling to do anything to help make Alberta's job easier.

In the sixth and final stanza, Alberta exposes the hypocrisy and injustice of the situation by telling the truth. Her employer may love Alberta, but Alberta certainly does not love her oppressive employer.

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In this humorous poem by poet Langston Hughes, a woman named Alberta, who works as a household servant, speaks in the first person about the duties she is required to perform for her employer, whom she calls "Madam." The speaker must clean the 12-room house, cook three meals a day, take care of the children, walk the dog, and do the laundry. The speaker confronts her employer about the enormous work load, asking her whether she is trying to make a "pack-horse" out of her. This question implies that the employer is taking advantage of Alberta, requiring her to do more work than is humanly possible or is kind.

The employer responds by denying the charge, and then professes her love for Alberta. In the humorous last stanza, Alberta acknowledges that her employer probably does love her, but that she does not return the sentiment. In fact, she says, "I'll be dogged if I love you." This is a euphemism and a slang term used for emphasis--there is no way an employee who is saddled with an impossible workload can be expected to love her oppressor.

One gets the impression that Alberta is a feisty and energetic woman who has been trying to do her best but finally comes to the conclusion that no matter how hard she tries, she will never be able to meet the unreasonable demands placed on her. The poem also fights against the stereotype of the cheerful black "help" on whom wealthy white women depended so that they would not have to lift a finger doing unpleasant tasks. This poem encourages overworked household staff to stand up for themselves and be honest about their limits and their feelings.

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