Theme for English B
by Langston Hughes
Theme for English B Summary
We start out with a writing assignment given by someone we can presume is our black speaker's white English professor. The assignment is to just write a page, from the self. The assignment also says that this will make the page "true."
What follows is our speaker's take on the assignment. He questions its simplicity—is something true simply because it comes out of one person's self? Is truth the same thing for a black youth like him as it is for the white professor?
As he's debating what is true for Americans, black or white, we find out a little about our speaker's life. He's a black college student in a class dominated by white students and he lives in Harlem. Harlem, and New York City in general, are a big part of his life, and he feels that he is in conversation with his environment. We also hear about how our speaker is just a normal 22-year-old guy, who likes to do the things normal 22-year-olds do.
But throughout the poem, this page for his English B class, there's a sense of irony and sarcasm. In an age of rampant discrimination, how can a page of writing be true and meaningful for both a black student and a white professor? Is truth warped by racism? The speaker concludes be acknowledging that that professor is "somewhat more free" than he is.