Theme for English B
by Langston Hughes
Throughout the poem, specific locations are mentioned. We get the sense that geographic locations are a huge part of the speaker's identity. Geography, indeed, plays a big role in race, especially back when this poem was published, in 1951. Following about a century after the Civil War, the southern United States was the hub of racism, while the north was considered more progressive. But as we can see from this poem, the races were in conflict everywhere. This poem also uses places to enrich its specificity and detail. We feel like we are a part of the speaker when we hear about the places where he lives his life.
- Line 2: An important place is mentioned here: "home." This is part of the instructor's assignment, but it also makes readers think about what home for our speaker might be—and what home is for them.
- Line 7: Winston-Salem is a city in North Carolina. It would definitely be considered the South. This gives us an idea of the speaker's roots, and some of the racism that he may have encountered growing up black in the South.
- Line 8: Durham is another city about an hour away from Winston-Salem. Our speaker has gone to school all over the southern United States.
- Line 9: This geographical detail leads us to think of City College, in Harlem—part of New York City. Harlem is a rich place for thinking about race—in the '20s the Harlem Renaissance made Harlem a hull of new thinking. Art and music helped Harlem advance away from racism.
- Lines 11-15: These lines give us a rich little walk through Harlem. If we were wondering where home was for the speaker earlier, this whole section has been through that—home was once Winston-Salem, then Durham, and now it's a tiny room in the Y in Harlem. That's where he's gone to write this page, at least.
- Lines 18-20: These lines give Harlem and New York life. Where before they may have been just geographical places, now we're starting to see that they're really an important part of our speaker. His daily interactions with the sights and sounds of New York City affect him.
- Line 33: America is the general stage for this entire poem. The tension and mixing between races that goes on, in both the South and the North, takes place in one bigger setting: the United States. This poem was written in a time after Civil War tore America apart, but before the Civil Rights Movement made ground in full integration of black and white Americans. If it were set in any other country, this poem would carry a very different meaning.