Theme for English B
by Langston Hughes
It's no surprise that there's a lot of talk about learning in this poem—after all, the poem is supposed to be an assignment for an English class. But learning, in this poem, is about so much more than school. It's about figuring out your identity, and growing as you interact with other people. Yet a lot of this discovery is placed in the language of classroom learning.
- Title: The title of this poem sets the stage for its educational tone. English B is about as average a name for a college class as can be. Turns out, though, this poem isn't your average assignment.
- Lines 1-5: From the start, we get that the poem is an assignment. The exact language of the assignment is even included. Even if we don't agree with the possibility of doing what the assignment says, though, we have to at least admire this English instructor a little. He's taking a risk by giving an assignment that's different from your average five-paragraph essay.
- Lines 8-9: These lines tell us where the speaker went to school. He's young, we know, so we can see that school has been an important part of his life so far.
- Lines 14-15: These lines show us the speaker as he starts his assignment. It's somewhat impressive that he's launching into it right away, and not procrastinating. Maybe, for all his doubts, he's intrigued by this assignment.
- Line 27: Even though our speaker's thoughts have strayed for almost this full section, he's returned to thinking about his assignment in this line. This line has a little wordplay between the white page that his assignment is to fill, and the white race.
- Lines 29-30: These lines say that the speaker's assignment will be a part of his instructor. This speaks to the relationship between the student and the instructor, and their potential to affect each other.
- Lines 37-38: Here, we get some wordplay with the idea of learning. We know that the speaker is in a class, formally learning from the instructor. Yet he claims that the instructor is learning from him, too. They're learning from each other as student and teacher, yes, but also as black and white, as young and old—each a representative of their race and culture.
- Line 41: As if to dot his I's and cross his T's, the speaker ends the poem by referring back to the original assignment. This line rings with a little bit of sarcasm—we know that this page may be just an assignment, but it also grabs at some universal truths that seem a little out of place in a simple assignment for English class.