“I, Too” By Langston Hughes
The poem highlights the plight of racial segregation from the perspective of people of African origin living in America. The use of the first person pronoun ‘I’ is aimed at making the reader know that that though the author may be speaking from a personal perspective, he represents the feeling of many people going through similar challenges. The analysis of this poem is done on a stanza by stanza basis:
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh
And eat well,
And grow strong (Hughes, 1926)
The first line, ‘I, too, sing America’ is a communication that the African-Americans by the virtue that they are also American citizens and hold the same ideologies should be accorded equal treatment just like the whites thought they speaker admits their skin color is not the same, ‘I am the darker brother’. The segregation is shown by the treatment that is accorded to the African-Americans. They, for instance, are told to eat in the kitchen and not on the table. This can also show that they are not involved in important activities of the state as they are considered inferior to the whites. However, even after going through this humiliation, the oppressed is still happy as shown by the line, ‘But I laugh.’ The person is optimistic that one day; they will gain strength and be equal to the whites in America.
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then. (Hughes, 1926)
The speaker exudes confidence that ‘tomorrow’ which is a connotation of the future, ‘I’ll be at the table.’ Showing that he will also be treated with respect because of the strength, he will have amassed. As a result, nobody will be able to humiliate him by saying “Eat in the kitchen,” at that time.
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—
I, too, am America. (Hughes, 1926)
However, the speaker does not want to force this respect to be accorded to them. On the contrary, the oppressors will feel humiliated that the speaker is strong and healthy despite the mistreatments. There is a repetition of the line ‘I, too, am America’ to emphasize the need to treat people equally.
The setting of the poem
It is not clear the actual historical time of this poem. The only thing that is known is that the speaker is somewhere in America and is undergoing racial discrimination.
The poem highlights some themes. The major themes in the text are explicitly explained below:
- Racial segregation
The statement ‘I, too, am America’ shows that even though the speaker holds the same ideology as the other citizens, they are not treated equally. This is because they are part of the people who say ‘I am the darker brother.’ The speaker does not want the reader to view the tribulations just as a personal problem but a collective problem involving many other people.
- Hope and optimism
The speaker is optimistic that despite the current mistreatment that they may be going through, the future is bright and they are going to be equal to the other citizens of the country. The speaker says that tomorrow, they will also be at the table. Moreover, the oppressors are going to feel the shame for the mistreatment meted on the speaker.
By saying that ‘tomorrow, I’ll be at the table’ and ‘Nobody’ll dare Say to me,” Eat in the kitchen,” the speaker is saying that they will be free in the future and there will be no oppression anymore. This is a gain of freedom and ability to decide for oneself.
The author employs the use of various stylistic devices to communicate the message more effectively to the readers:
Even though there is no indication of violence or an actual indication of how the speaker is oppressed in the poem, a close look at the whole poem indicates that there are instances of oppression. For example, being sent to the kitchen to eat and not on the table is a symbol that you are not equal to those who are eating on the table.
The personal pronoun ‘I’ and the line ‘I, too, sing America’ are repeated in the poem to emphasize the need o treat the various races as equal in America. The speaker wants the reader to know just how much he values the concept of equity.