Theme for English B
by Langston Hughes
Theme for English B Visions of America Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Line)
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem. (7)
Our speaker is as American as it gets. He's young, born in the South, and struggling to rise up against the odds of his skin color in a racist era. He's undertaking the great American identity quest as his race slowly struggles towards equality. And important to his identity as a young American man is both his skin color and the place where he was born: Winston-Salem, a small city in North Carolina.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem. (8-9)
The speaker is letting us know which parts of America he's from as he introduces himself in this poem. Durham, a city not too far from Winston-Salem in North Carolina, was surely quite different from Harlem, a hustling, bustling center of culture—especially African American culture. This speaker has lived in both the South, which, historically, is the hub of slavery and racism, and the North, which was the land of the abolitionists, and largely more liberal. The tension between the North and the South is important to American history and culture, and our speaker invokes this tension in the poem by telling us about his schooling down South as well as his life now in Harlem.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y, (11-13)
This part of the poem is practically a scenic tour through one part of America: Harlem. We walk with our speaker across a park and through the streets of New York. Then we end up in something else quite American: the YMCA. Our speaker has a simple room, in the middle of a thriving city, living cheaply, being young, and beating the pavement back and forth from his college class. Learning and living in spare surroundings in order to succeed—well, that sounds pretty American to us.