Theme For English B is a poem Hughes writes for his English instructor for an assignment in college. In the first portion of his address, Hughes says, “And let that page come out of you—/Then, it will be true.” Then, after a line break, Hughes questions this statement by saying, “I wonder if it’s that simple?” He then goes on to tell about his life, very early establishing the fact that he is a twenty-two year old colored man who is not from Harlem. Nothing in this time period is easy for a young black man. By the way, I had no idea Hughes was from Winston-Salem or went to school in Durham.
He tells us, “I am the only colored student in my class.” This easily identifies with the topic of alienation that we discussed with Cullen. Away from home, in a new school, and the only black person in his class, it’s almost as if Hughes is in a foreign place.
Hughes continues on to describe the lengthy trip he must take in order to get home. “…through a park…cross St. Nicholas, Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y, the Harlem Branch Y…” Is the Harlem Branch Y a segregated portion of the Y? If so, this further adds to Hughes’ alienation.
The first portion of the second stanza makes me feel that Hughes is a little unsure of himself. For instance, he says, “It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me/ at twenty-two, my age.” Here, Hughes blames is uneasiness on his age. Also, Hughes “guess[es]” that he is what he “…feel[s] and see[s] and hear[s]…” He continues on and asks, “Me—who?” This, in my mind, is Hughes asking who he is. He is having an identity crisis.
In the same stanza, Hughes goes on to answer his question of who he is by telling us he likes to “eat, sleep, drink, and be in love…work, read, learn, and understand life.” Eating, sleeping, drinking and love are generally associated with basic human needs. Working, reading, learning and understanding life are typically tasks that “quality” human beings perform. After this, Hughes smacks his audience in the face by saying, “I guess being colored doesn’t make me NOT like/the same things other folks like who are other races.” I agree wholeheartedly with Hughes here. Just because he is black doesn’t mean he isn’t a human being! We’ve seen this idea presented all semester in works by Douglass, Twain, and Stowe.
“So will my page be colored that I write?/Being me, it will not be white.” Of course everything Hughes writes will be scrutinized because he is a black author. People will automatically stereotype him and his works.
In the next few lines, Hughes addresses his professor and says that they have no choice but to be a part of each other. “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’s true!” Yet, in the final lines, Hughes hits his professor hard with some reality. He says, “I guess you learn from me--/although you’re older—and white---/and somewhat more free.” In reality, Hughes’ professor still does not regard Hughes as an equal. He is a young black man—how could he possibly teach an older, learned white college professor?