Study Guide

Theme for English B Truth

By Langston Hughes


And let that page come out of you—
Then, it will be true. (4-5)

Here, we're set up to think about this poem as an assignment geared towards finding the truth. Now, many people go through their whole lives looking for the Truth, capital T. So it seems a little ambitious to think that something true can come out of a simple page of writing. This assignment is also saying that if something comes from within, it's true. This part of the poem is laying it out with the authority of the instructor. No room to question here—the assignment must be completed, whether or not the students think it's legitimate.

I wonder if it's that simple? (6)

Just because it's laid out plain and simple, and must be done, doesn't mean that the assignment is accurate. In fact, our speaker is questioning his instructor's wisdom right here—on the page that, as we find out later, he turns in! It's brave to ask this question, but hey, the assignment is to record what the speaker is truly feeling, so in a way, this is following instructions to the letter.

It's not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. (16-17)

It ain't easy bein' me, huh? Our speaker here says that he just doesn't know what's true, and hey, he's only 22, so what does he know, anyway? How can he say what's true for anybody, including himself? The truth is a tricky thing for this young man, for all 22-year-olds, indeed, and perhaps for people of all ages from 1 to 101. (If you're 102, of course, then we can talk.) For real, though, truth is hard to come by, maybe especially for the young and open-minded and questioning among us.

Sometimes perhaps you don't want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that's true! (34-36)

After saying this whole time that it's not simple or easy to know what's true, the speaker is finally happy to come across something that he says in true. In fact, he's so happy that he even expresses it using an exclamation mark—woo-hoo, that's true! But the truth here isn't exactly gleeful or happy. The truth he finds is that even if the two races hardly get along at all, they're stuck being a part of each other.

although you're older—and white—
and somewhat more free. (39-40)

Perhaps it's hard for the speaker to know what's true because he lives in a country that was founded on principles of equality and opportunity, but allowed slavery, and still, at the time of this poem, allowed systematic discrimination. What does it mean for truth when one person is freer than another?