The poem I, Too by Langston Hughes has been quoted and referenced by many scholars not only in the American literature, but also beyond and in different literary disciplines. The title of the poem awakens a lot of anxiety among those who come across it, and the author mainly tells the African-American history through the eye of the American beliefs, traditions, culture, and social ethics from time immemorial. By far, the poet elicits the existence of the Jim Crow rules and regulations that were so disadvantageous against the people of color in the US in the 20th century. Furthermore, postures resistance against those opposed to the truth that such social injustices and acts of impunity never existed in America then (Nazareth and Rampersad 132). As such, the American culture as was told and felt in the 20th century is brought a new on the platform of social controversy that is all reflected in the present day American racial and social confrontations, despite the significant landmark improvements regarding globalization and moral ethics in the 21st century. The poem is relatively short, because it is merely 18 lines; however, it has such a convincing and compelling tone, that challenges its readers to open the third eye about the relationship between the white Americans and the African Americans at a time when the majority of society and culture was in controversy. The pain in the poem and the tone of melancholic despondency is reflected in the lines, “Tomorrow, I’ll be at the table, When company comes” (Fonteneau et al. 192). While analyzing the poem, it is not only essential to outline why it is very critical to the contemporary American culture, but also vital to portray how it speaks to the present.
The phrase “I, too” elicits and deciphers a multidimensional pun, especially when analyzed in line with the beginning and the ending lines of the poem. A critical view and approach to the title, like if the reader considers it as the numeral “I two,” then it is more of a person who comes inferior to, secondary, even, or secondary to a more compelling character. In the present-day American history, the situation is slightly different from what could be perceived as normal in the times the author of this poem lived. For instance, whereas Jim Crow rules and racial persecutions and discriminations were very prevalent in the 20th century, apparently, the vices are by far reduced, and human rights, freedom, and justice embraced. On the contrary, the classism and elements of the hierarchical categorization of the American citizenry have become a common denominator in socially connoting as ho is who. For instance, the peasant or the poor, the middle class and the upper class have become the primary elements of segregation, especially in the US political landscape and social culture. In the same manner, the poem speaks to the current American society because Hughes passionately and emotionally speaks for the rejected, the less privileged, the second-class citizens, and those who unfairly come in controversy with social injustices more often than not (Fonteneau et al. 192). The poem is a clear reflection of how the less privileged and more despised because of their skin complexion African Americans who have to clear from the dining table, to go have meals in the kitchen while the more superior persons, “company” comes to dine with his peers. Nevertheless, it remains less palpable regarding social criticisms, because the element of the kitchen or who owns the kitchen is not overemphasized by Langston. At a critical view, the US does not belong to a particular race; this is because the country is referred to as the melting pot of the global cultures. Indeed, all people in America are immigrants, except the Native Americans. It remains to be the case to date. Conversely, the house is an allusion of the US as a country; nevertheless, whoever owns the house (America) is not said by the persona. Therefore, from the poem, both the owners of the kitchen and the house cannot be specified. Still, it is surprising that there is social classism which describes others or rather puts them at an advantage over the less privileged, such that there are those who it from the house and other from the kitchen. More importantly, this line of argumentation by the poet illustrates the fact that even though nobody is superior to the other by mere distinctions of race, culture, traditions, religion, beliefs, gender, and even class in America, it is ironical and disturbing at the same time that others are perceived to be more superior than some (Nazareth and Rampersad 132). It is the case in the present-day American culture. It remains evidenced that the factor or race is a clear distinction between the white Americans, black Americans, and even Hispanics and Asians among others. Hughes is, therefore, speaking to the present-day US, for the unsolicited discriminations in the society.
On the other hand, Hughes brings on board the subject of slavery, and a keen reader realizes the mood and the tone of an inferior social class, that connotes the African Americans who used to work on the plantations, especially in the southern states. For those who live in the cabins and below the social status, the author honors with dignified notice. It then becomes evidenced in the poem that in the presence of the black Americans, the difference between the house and the kitchen is made real, the availability of food and the high dining table is manifested, and basic needs are available. Literary, there is something more related and associated to the black Americans than what meets the eye in the words of the poem. The hidden truth is that the less privileged and the undermined slaves then that worked on the plantations were the ones who worked hard to bring meals on the table. Moreover, the painful reality is that once meals were ready for serving, those that had toiled to deliver were rejected and sent away from the high table, to rather eat in exclusion and miserably so. Apparently, the point in this notion speaks to the present-day US (Nazareth and Rampersad 132). It is a clear manifestation that America’s wealth is vested and contained among the high class, whereas the majority of the population who the tax to sustain the most formidable economy on the planet are categorized as the middle class and the peasants. In effect, justice is wanting, and the less privileged are not in such circumstances because they do merit to be better placed, rather, because of the discrimination and injustices that deny them the opportunity to realize their potential livelihoods. Having endured that which could not be contained, the history of those that faced social difficulties now lives more evidently and reflects soundly in the present-day American culture.
When at the end of the poem Hughes says, “I, too, am America,” and also mentions – “They’ll see how beautiful I am…” it speaks volumes about the modern-day American history (Nazareth and Rampersad 132). It is at this moment that Hughes had qualified the position of the black Americans in the American culture. It was apparent that they did not receive what they deserved in measure and dignity, and that social discrimination by race was evidenced because he was the “Darker Brother” (Fonteneau et al. 192). Nevertheless, the resistance perceived in the voice of the persona is convincing enough to confirm to the reader that the following time social discrimination came calling, he refused to harken to those who perpetrated discrimination and stayed at the dining table. Perhaps, it is one of the instrumental pieces of literature which attracted the agitation for a revolution for the end of racial discrimination in the US. In the same vein, when he says —“They’ll see how beautiful I am…” it is a definite confirmation that African Americans had a critical role to play in the American culture, very indispensable that the US could not become what it is apparently, without the black people in this country (Fonteneau et al. 192). It goes in the 21st century that black Americans have defined and guided the political landscape of America. It is beyond doubt that the culture of the US is shaped by the African American artists and that their contribution in lucrative disciplines like law, medicine, engineering, the military, and technology means a lot to America as the superpower of the world. Indeed, Hughes did not only speak to the 20th century racially aligned society, but also to the present-day US, whereby everybody has a place at the dining table (America) regardless of their social, cultural, religious, political, or traditional inclinations.
Fonteneau, Yvonne, et al. “The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes.” World Literature Today, vol. 70, no. 1, 1996, p. 192.
Nazareth, Peter, and Arnold Rampersad. “The Life of Langston Hughes. 1: 1902-1941: I, Too, Sing America.” World Literature Today, vol. 62, no. 1, 1988, p. 132.