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Langston Hughes' Autobiographical Poems

Langston Hughes copes with the reality of race in his works and with the social tensions that make the black man especially one who is outside the social norm while also being required to conform or be destroyed. For the black man, society demands a certain level of behavior, denying individuality, while at the same time denying full membership in the society imposing these rules. Hughes feels the force of this paradox in his life and expresses this idea in his poetry, asserting an individual through his work that is difficult for the average black man to achieve in society. Some of his poems are indeed directly autobiographical, while all of his poems are infused with his experience as a black man in America.

His "Theme for English B" is one of his more autobiographical poems:

There is relatively little distance between him and the experience recounted in the poem. . . The poem reiterates one of Hughes' leading themes, first enunciated at the close of The Watery Blues: that "I, too, am America," American identity of necessity embraces equally the white and the black experience (Black Heritage 105).

Clearly, the reason why it is necessary to make this statement again and again is because blacks are not treated as if they are Americans. At the beginning of the poem, he cites his instructor as to the importance in writing of doing so from personal experience and from the heart:

This causes the poet to wonder if things are that simple given that the truth of the black man is not recognized. He is the only black in his class, and so his experience differs from that of every other student.

In his poetry, Hughes considers the point of view of the black man and how it differs from that of the white, though he sees that both are Americans. He links his voice to that of all black men through time in "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," a


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Langston Hughes' Autobiographical Poems. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 16:50, August 09, 2020, from