I, Too, Sing America
by Langston Hughes
Violence and Oppression
OK, so there's not much actual violence in "I, Too, Sing America." Actually, if you're going to look at things literally, there's no violence in the poem at all – no one gets hurt, nothing blows up, etc. But there's plenty of oppression, and if you look at the poem in its full cultural context (i.e., that of slavery), there's plenty of suggested violence within the text here. Most of the actions of the white Americans in this piece are blatantly oppressive, and those same actions are just bristling with a subtle, almost-there violence. Let's look at it in the poem.
- Lines 3-4: This image, of the white slave owners sending their house-slaves into the kitchen when company shows up for dinner, is both obviously oppressive and somewhat violent. After all, the consequences of slave disobedience and rebellion are well-documented.
- Lines 8-9: These lines aren't so much about oppression so much as they imagine a future without oppression, when the different races are seen as equal and can share meals together.
- Lines 11-12: This line is almost like a little threat (think: "how dare you?" or "don't you dare!"). The speaker seems to be saying "I have paid dearly for this freedom – and you will not be oppressing me any longer."