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Themes

In "Theme for English B," wrapped up in the speaker's search for his identity is the idea of his race. He's black, born in the South, but now lives in Harlem—the center of black culture in New York City and the home of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. He's the only black person in his class, and that includes his instructor. Talk about intimidating! When he sits down to write a page that's supposed to be true, he can't help but feel that, when people aren't equally free, then they're not going to have the same truth. Finally, he seems to realize that a person's "truth" really can't be separated from a person's race. And for him, Shmoopers, that's the truth.

Questions About Race

  1. How does race affect the speaker's education? 
  2. How do you think the speaker feels about race in America? 
  3. How does the speaker's race affect how he thinks about himself?
  4. How does race affect the speaker's relationship with his instructor? 
  5. How do the statements about racial tensions in this poem hold true today, or not?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

One love, everybody: the speaker in this poem argues that though there may be racial tension in America, the races are a part of each other.

The speaker feels that though his instructor is in a more powerful position because of his race, he and his instructor learn from each other. And, as they say, knowledge is… good.

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