Sample Student Analysis and
Comparison Essay on Poetry
Langston Hughes makes people think. This sounds simplistic and vague, yes, but he understands exactly how to grab the reader with entertaining lyric, yet also provoke deep thought. Born in Joplin, Missouri in 1902, Hughes spent his childhood bouncing between his grandmother and mother while his dad exited the picture at an early age (Poets.org). The biggest influences on his writing were jazz and Walt Whitman (Poets.org). He wanted to share the blunt truth of his people’s livelihood and culture (Poets.org). Two of his poems, in particular, embody both well-written text and force one to put his or herself in the shoes of the narrator: “Ballad of the Landlord” and “I, Too.” The first poem tells the story of a man who is being mistreated by his landlord due to his race while the second is an uplifting piece showing one’s persistent nature in representing his or her country. He uses these pieces to illustrate life for the African-American while discrimination was still much more prevalent. Hughes reveals the proud and determined mindset of the African-American during such troubling times through imagery and emotion. His goal is to convey how strongly people of color strive for equality.
Structure and rhythm are some of the keys to unlocking what Langston is trying to say. The beauty and uniqueness to Hughes’s poetry is that he does not confine himself to any limitation with his poetry in regards to structure. In fact, the lack of proper structure in many of his pieces is purposely done for symbolization. While “Ballad of the Landlord” follows a fairly strict form, “I, Too” is quite abstract. The latter does not follow a certain syllable count, stanza count, or even rhyme. This has a significant impact on how the reader takes it in. The focus now moves toward the meaning rather than having words flow together. Suddenly, there is more power within the text and the reader is more drawn into the narrator’s strong will and upbeat attitude toward fighting discrimination. The other poem, however, does have clear and consistent rhyme and rhythm. In the first six stanzas, an A-B-C-B rhyme scheme is followed while the rhythm almost resembles a nursery rhyme. In this different approach, Hughes is giving the poem a catchy sound while also delivering the harsh reality of a colored man dealing with his living arrangements. The rhythm may be intended to reach a younger audience better and warn them of what is to come.
Word choice and alignment play a role in revealing Hughes' theme of equality as well. “Don’t you ‘member” and “Um-huh” from “The Ballad of the Landlord” represent the urban language which people such as the narrator tended to speak (3, 17). These phrases cause the reader to feel like the situation is real and that they are in the moment. Attributing an accent or different way of speaking is a great tool that can be used to increase the legitimacy of the character. The questions being asked such as “What? You gonna get eviction orders?” escalate the situation’s severity by putting a harsh reality into the reader’s head (13). Rising tension between a colored resident and white landlord is being portrayed. Asking questions in a poem also forces one to ponder and create his or her own answer. Simple lines like “Arrest” and “Iron cell” create a dramatic tone as well (27, 29). Condensing a line into such few words highlights its importance to the story. “I, Too” also shows this concept with the entirety of the text. Only two lines contain more than five words and eleven of them have three or fewer. The small amount of words is deliberate and meant to address the simple nature of an African-American trying to achieve social equality.
Hughes uses tone to help guide the reader toward his message of unity. However, the poems differ in this regard and were written to address separate attitudes toward attacking discrimination. “The Ballad of the Landlord” carries a very somber and real feeling. This poem attempts to put the reader in the situation and experience everything first-hand. Hughes’s goal of telling it like it is in daily lives of African-Americans is evident in this piece. “I, Too” takes a different approach in grabbing one’s attention. This is meant a much more of an inspiring tale to strike confidence and strong will into someone facing the same odds. Powerful lines such as “They’ll see how beautiful I am” signify just how bright the future can still be for someone battling racism or profiling. The last line, in particular, “I, too, am America” really drives home Hughes’s point that an American is an American regardless of color. Everyone equally represents the nation.
Both of these pieces from the legendary Hughes offer great insight into the struggles of achieving social equality during his lifetime. Langston exposed harsh realities of which many people never knew or experienced for themselves. “The Ballad of the Landlord” and “I, Too” offer both authenticity and hope. Even if at the time it seemed like an uphill battle, strides were being made toward beating discrimination. Hughes establishes himself as a major proponent of Civil Rights and exquisite writer.
Hughes, Langston. “I Too.” The Norton Introduction to Literature. Shorter 12th Edition. Kelly J. Mays. New York: Norton, 2016. 1045. Print.
Hughes, Langston. “The Ballad of the Landlord.” The Norton Introduction to Literature. Shorter 12th Edition. Kelly J. Mays. New York: Norton, 2016. 744. Print.
“Langston Hughes.” Poets.org. Academy of American Poets, n.d. Web. 12 Nov. 2016.
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