I, Too, Sing America
by Langston Hughes
Where It All Goes Down
The setting in "I, Too, Sing America" is relatively clear in some ways, and pretty vague in others. For starters, we don't know exactly when this poem is supposed to take place –it could take place either during America's slave-holding days, or afterwards. In other words, we don't know for sure when the poem takes place, because racial segregation was part of American history long after slavery officially ended. (Want to know more? Check out our US History Learning Guide on Jim Crow in America.) And we don't know exactly where it's supposed to be either, aside from in the United States.
So what do we know, then? Well, we know we're in a house. That's for sure. It's probably a big home owned by a white family – big enough that the household includes slaves or black servants. We also know that we're in a kitchen at some point – at least, the narrator describes eating in a kitchen. You can't think of it like today's kitchens, where lots of families eat their meals. In this poem, the dining room is where the family and guests eat. This is where the narrator envisions eating in the future, right alongside the white homeowner and his company.
So, at the end of all this, we don't have a precise setting, but we have a pretty good idea of how to imagine the historic and domestic context. And that's what poetry is all about, anyways – using your imagination.