The poem, I, Too by Langston Hughes was published in 1926 but first seen in his book, “The Weary Blues” in 1925. It is a rather short, free verse poem of five stanzas, opening and closing with similar one line sentence, and using simple language throughout. The poem is only five sentences in total, but covers two events, today and tomorrow, and two places, the kitchen and the table. The narrator of the poem creates black narrative and exposes the African-American identity within the oppressive dominant white culture of America. More powerfully, it captivates the history of slavery and oppression that creates systems of racial inequality and denied blacks their rights. The poem uses an exemplary event of the unfair treatment of a person because of their darker skin complexion to comment on the racism that plagues our nation. When the poem emerged in 1926, the Great Migration (high rate relocation of African-Americans from Southern states to the North), The Chicago race riots (the lynching of blacks), and Jim Crow (state and local laws that legally separated the South), painted the racially divided climate of the US.
In the Poem, I, Too, the narrator is sent to the kitchen to eat his food alone by an authority figure when people come to visit who all eat together at the table. The narrator does as told but claims that he will not be in the kitchen in the future. Through the use of commas, Hughes expressed his feelings towards racism and comments on the racially discriminating state of our nation.
“I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.”
The use of commas in this quote forces the reader to slow down and take in the actions of the narrator. The commas show the continuation of the unfair treatment because the commas combined with the word “grow strong” shows the longevity and multiplicity of times he was had to eat in the kitchen because he is “the darker brother.” The commas also allow for the tone shift through the lines as well as stanzas of the poem. The tone shift from one of anger to one of strength through the use of the commas because the commas allows for the poem to be read like blues music, filled with sorrow and anger, but finding the beauty by finding its worth like the narrator does. Commas produce this effect because it showcases the narrator’s growth and emotions. The commas allow us to get a whole picture view of the changes the narrator goes through after being banished to the kitchen such as the, “But I laugh,” that is followed by the, “And eat well,” then him saying, “And grow strong.” He is not allowing for his banishment to the kitchen to keep him down, but rather laughs and thinks of the future when he is stronger and can escape the segregation that has been forced on him. The commas also produces a contrast between not being able to eat at the table juxtaposed to his claim of his, “tomorrow(‘s)” right to eat at that table. His perseverance and resilience in self authorizing that he will be at the table comes through because of the use of commas showing that he is not accepting his current situation.
The vagueness in the setting of time in the poem (today and tomorrow), showcases how whether or not it takes place during slavery or post-slavery, the remaining effects of oppression and unequal treatment of blacks is still present and draining in the American society. Moving on, the narrator claims his liberation and argues for unification at the table. He is claiming his right to feel included and equal as a citizen in America. He is disapproving the idea that equality is based on race, or more specifically that you have to be white or of a lighter skin complexion to be fairly treated.
Through his poem, Hughes makes a declaration of freedom for blacks and stands against the oppression and cruel treatment of slaves as if they aren’t equal human beings. The narrator’s fight still remains true and ongoing in American society today because we still see ongoing movements and suffrage for racial equality and freedom. The Black Lives Movement is a 21st century visual representation of the poem and the theme of Freedom that it demands. This theme of freedom rings through in Hughes other works of poetry such as, “Let America be America Again” and “Montage of a Dream Deferred.” Malcolm X said, “Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.” Parallel with Hughes message, Blacks are demanding their freedom in all pursuits, but more than just demanding it, they are taking it peacefully or via force.
Hughes, Langston. “I, Too by Langston Hughes.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, 1926, www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47558/i-too.
Michael O. Emerson, Christian Smith (2001). “Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America”. p. 42. Oxford University Press.
“Malcolm X Quotes.” BrainyQuote.com. BrainyMedia Inc, 2019. 19 April 2019. https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/malcolm_x_387554