Langston Hughes: Comparison and Contrasting Essay
by Feross Aboukhadijeh
Langston Hughes was a central figure in the Harlem Renaissance, the flowering of African-American literature and artistic forms in Manhattan during the 1920s. Not only did his writing promote African-American culture, but it sought to bring attention to the plight of the African-Americans suffering injustice and repression. His poems "I, Too" and "Theme for English B" both advanced his political views of equal civil rights and treatment under the law for African-Americans. Both poems use first-person voices; however the "I" is different for each poem, in order to fulfill Hughes' purpose for the poem.
In Hughes' poem "I, Too," the speaker is not an individual as the word "I" implies. In fact, the "I" represents the entirety of African-Americans living in the United States. That Hughes writes "I am the darker brother" instead of "we are the darker brothers" is no accident (2). The connotation of the word "I" as opposed to "we" is that of a lone individual, defenseless and outnumbered. The speaker says "They send me to eat in the kitchen," reinforcing the one-versus-all mentality that Hughes is trying to convey in this poem (3). "We" and "they," give a stronger, more united connotation than "I" does. In this poem, "I" is used to connote weakness, and isolation. As used in this poem, the first-person voice highlights the weakness of the African-American people. However, this is not the only way that Hughes uses "I" in his poetry.
On the other hand, Hughes' poem "Theme for English B," uses the first-person voice for an entirely different effect. In this poem, the "I" is an individual student. The poem is written like a narrative: "I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem" (7). Unlike the first poem, "I" is used here to connote strength and singularity. The speaker, an African-American student given an English writing assignment, engages his teacher in an intelligent, even pointed dialog. Hughes artistically makes use of the first-person point of view to enhance the effect of the story. By using words like "I" and "them", "me" and "you," the speaker is able to point out the differences between himself and his teacher. One passage in particular stands out for its incessant juxtaposition of the words "you" and "me":
You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
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!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me— (31-38).
Not only does this highlight the differences between the speaker and teacher, but it puts the speaker in a commanding position. The fact that an African-American individual is writing something controversial, and making critical remarks of his teacher—and in such an eloquent way—is a sign of strength and source of pride.
Although these poems both make use of first-person voices, they each make use of voice to different ends. Nonetheless, both poems draw attention to the plight of the African-American people, albeit in different manners. Both poems cry out for civil rights and equality in a time where African-Americans were treated neither civilly nor equally.
Aboukhadijeh, Feross. "Sample Compare and Contrast Essay - "Langston Hughes"" StudyNotes.org. Study Notes, LLC., 17 Nov. 2012. Web. 10 Mar. 2018. <https://www.apstudynotes.org/english/sample-essays/compare-contrast-langston-hughes/>.
January 4, 2005
Many people find it difficult to distinguish reality from fantasy. They are daydreamers who most often find themselves alone and lost in the world. Paul, of Willa Cather’s “Paul’s Case” and the protagonist of “Araby” by James Joyce are two examples of these types of people. They both attempt to grasp for what they truly want, only to find that what they desire is out of reach. They come up short of what they want and instantly become self-aware of the mistakes they have made. Both stories use similar techniques to achieve this effect.
The imagery of both “Paul’s Case” and “Araby” is particularly vivid. The audience gets a taste of what the main characters are feeling through a stirring of the senses and emotions. Light is a common feature in both stories. Paul finds himself outside of a hotel staring up at its glory and, “[seems] to feel himself go after [a woman] up the steps, into the warm, lighted building, into an exotic, a tropical world of shiny, glistening surfaces and basking ease” (249). The light gives Paul a feeling of wonder and excitement. While Paul is in New York the “lights [stream] from the hotels” (258). It is as if Paul’s dreams of enjoying a rich life are right in a spotlight. In “Araby,” the main character desires the love of his friend Mangan’s sister. He mentions that “the light from the lamp opposite [his] door caught the white curve of her neck, lit up her hair that rested there and, falling, lit up her hand” (26). Once again, what the main character desires is spotlighted but out of reach. A second form of imagery found in both stories is the weather. In “Paul’s Case,” Paul is waiting in the rain looking up at the hotel when “a quick gust of wind [brings] the rain down with sudden vehemence” (249). It is as if the elements are telling him that his dreams are out of reach in a harsh manner. In “Araby” the protagonist is in his house thinking of his love when he hears “the rain impinge upon the earth, the fine incessant needles of water playing in the sodden beds” (25). It feels as if the sound of the rain is interrupting his thoughts and telling him to stop dreaming.
The characters of both stories display similar characteristics, traits, and personalities. Both are daydreamers. When Paul sinks into one of the seats at his beloved Carnegie Hall, he “[loses] himself” (248). The protagonist of “Araby” also claims he wastes his waking and sleeping thoughts on innumerable follies (26). It is this daydreaming that keeps both boys from grasping reality. Both boys also are alone in the world because they don’t have a true connection with another human being. Paul’s father is not a large part of his life, and Paul is ashamed of him. The main character of “Araby” lives with his aunt and uncle and is ignored by them. This causes both boys to feel a sense of isolation and loneliness, so they must escape to their dreams. Both boys attend school and have trouble paying attention in class. Paul “[finds] the schoolroom…repulsive” (254). He considers the school and the teachers to be a joke (254). “Araby’s” main character “[answers] few questions in class” (26). He also says that he cannot call his wandering thoughts together (26). Neither boy has stable learning habits in classroom and so both are isolated from their teachers and peers. This only causes them to be separated from responsibility and in turn, reality.
The language and diction in both stories are full of color. Both are brought alive in detail and description with memorable, dreamy images, details, and colors. These descriptive images, including metaphors and similes, engage the audience and allow them to get lost as they read, similar to the characters themselves. The language and diction match the minds of the main characters.
Through the elements of diction, imagery, and character, Cather and Joyce create works that parallel the fantasy world of the characters. These elements also foster the end results of the self-awareness and attaining of reality in both characters.
Thanks, Jill, for sharing your work with AP teachers.