Explication of “Theme for English B”
Langston Hughes’s poem, “Theme for English B,” dramatizes the conflict between structure and identity. Hughes’s poem begins with the professor’s instructions to write a page that comes from within, and the speaker continues by giving a quick summary of his background and the setting of where the page is being written. The speaker is a twenty-two year old “colored student” (line 10) writing the assignment in his room near school. The second and final section of the poem discusses the subjectivity of one’s personal truths and concludes by stating that this analysis actually is the paper. Is what is true for the speaker the same as what is true for the instructor? Initially the reader recognizes the validity and importance of this question presented by the speaker, for as a college student he presumably is intelligent. More so, as the only colored student in his class, he has experienced dealing with the ideas of people different from himself.
The first argument of “Theme for English B” focuses on structure and is represented by the formalities of the education system and hierarchy found in instructor-student relationship. The formal structure is established immediately with the instructor’s directions. Unlike the free verse that dominates the structure of the poem, the assignment’s directions are given in a very composed manner in which both perfect and end rhyme are used:
Go home and write
A page tonight
And let that page come out of you---
Then, it will be true. (lines 2-5)
Write and tonight are exactly alike in sound (perfect rhyme) and come at the end of the lines (end rhyme.) These two rhyming techniques are similarly used in the next two lines with you and true. The use of a stanza also defines the structure applied by the instructor in his directions. This stanza is contrasted by the unorganized stream of conscious approach used by the speaker in the rest of the poem.
Aside from the...