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I, Too Langston Hughes

I, Too Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes was a prolific poet whose writing helped define the African-American identity and brought critical social issues to the front. Much of Langston Hughes's writing is infused with musicality and inspired by the blues. In "I, Too" (1926), Langston Hughes uses refrain, allusion, and enjambment to develop the message that African-Americans are a part of and a viable representation of America.

"I, Too" by Langston Hughes

Below is a table to breakdown Langston Hughes "I, Too".

Poem"I, Too"
WriterLangston Hughes
Published1926
Structure18 short lines organized into 5 stanzas
Rhyme schemeNo rhyme or rhyme scheme
MeterNo pattern, Hughes uses free verse
Literary devicesRefrain, enjambment, allusion
ThemesRacism, African-American identity
MeaningThe poetic voice speaks for all African-Americans who are excluded from society by racism. The speaker asserts their place in America.

I, Too, Street signs of Malcolm X Boulevard, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Street sign in Harlem, New York: the center of the Harlem Renaissance.

The poet and activist James Mercer Langston Hughes ( 1901-1967) was an instrumental figure in the fight for African-American rights. Despite his family's discontent, he is notable for his resolute dedication to pursuing a career as a writer. Hughes became the voice for the African-American collective, using his writing to surface social injustices and prove that African-Americans were an essential part of American culture. Hughes was also a key figure during the Harlem Renaissance and used his writing to draw connections between poetry and music.

The Harlem Renaissance is a time of vast cultural development for the African-American community in the New York City area of Harlem. From 1918 to 1937, an intellectual, musical, cultural, and artistic awakening centered in Harlem and served as a celebration and awareness of the African-American people. Instrumental in helping African-Americans gain a sense of self, identity, and cultural awareness, the Harlem Renaissance is an important period for music and literature.

"I, Too" by Langston Hughes Summary

"I, Too" is a free verse poem with no discernible rhyme scheme or meter. It was first published in 1926, during the peak of the Harlem Renaissance. The poem depicts how racism affects African-Americans and excludes them from the literal and figurative seat at the American table.

The brief 18-line poem ends on a high note, with the speaker asserting that African-Americans are vital and important contributors and people in America.

The speaker states "tomorrow" will be the day he'll be welcomed at the table and allowed to sit at the table with the company coming over to visit. The company represents American society and expresses a longing for African-Americans to be accepted as part of America. Showing hope for the inevitable and near future, the poetic voice asserts strength and pride in being "the darker brother" (line 2) while demonstrating resilience to continue the fight for equality and acceptance.

I, Too, Langston Hughes, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Langston Hughes was a prominent figure and advocate for African-American rights.

"I, Too" by Langston Hughes Full Poem

Here is the full poem of "I, Too".

I, too, sing America.
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.
Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.
Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—
I, too, am America."

"I, Too" Langston Hughes Symbolism

The musical genre the blues, and other poets such as Paul Laurence Dunbar and Walt Whitman, heavily influenced Langston Hughes. He uses symbolism throughout his poem to compare a relatable event—a shared meal at a table—to the effects of racism on African-Americans. Three central symbols in "I, Too" work in unison to provide a powerful image of the damaging effects of racism and discrimination.

The Kitchen

The kitchen is a symbol of nourishment. It's where we get our food and gather as a family—it is the center of many households. In "I, Too," Hughes focuses on the kitchen as both a symbol of nutrition, where the speaker will "eat well" (line 6) and "grow strong" (line 7), and as a symbol of oppression. In a broader sense, the kitchen is a symbol of the unequal treatment the African-American community faced in American society.

On the literal level, wealthier white people employed African-Americans and rarely allowed African-Americans to eat at the table with the family. Instead, they had to eat in the kitchen. Despite often forming close bonds with the family, African-American domestic employees lived life in the shadows and weren't acknowledged as part of the family or the household.

Many African-American people, even famous performers, could not share the same facilities as white Americans. They could not use the same restrooms, eat in the same dining rooms, or even enter through the same doorways as white Americans at the establishments they would perform at.

Thus, the extended metaphor here is visible through Hughes's symbolic kitchen, as it is emblematic of the racial segregation African-Americans were fighting against. Although the speaker in the poem is separated from other Americans and forced to huddle in the kitchen, the speaker gains strength, a sense of identity, and pride, and emerges from the kitchen as "beautiful" (line 16).

A metaphor is a direct comparison between two unlike things without using the words "like," "as," or another comparative word.

An extended metaphor is a metaphor that goes on for several lines, paragraphs, or throughout an entire piece.

I, Too, Kitchen Table, StudySmarterFig. 3 - In "I, Too," the kitchen table symbolizes segregation.

Company

The company in "I, Too" represents American society. At first, shunned from general society and separated by both state-supported and informal societal regulations, African-Americans were not an accepted or acknowledged part of American society. Many white people benefited from the work African-Americans did. They maintained close relationships with African-Americans and considered them friends.

However, their refusal to accept African-Americans into the community and their active support of a segregated society reveal the hypocrisy in America during Hughes's time. At first, isolated in the kitchen from the company, the speaker shows an awareness of the unfair treatment. Toward the end of the poem, the speaker communicates a sense of hope for a better tomorrow where all will join in a meal at the metaphorical table.

The Table

In "I, Too" the table symbolizes acceptance and equality. The complete extended metaphor that runs throughout the poem represents segregation and racial conditions within America. African-Americans were not accepted as part of society, could not participate in social events or political processes, and had many of their basic rights revoked or denied. Their ability to "be at the table / When company comes" (9-10) means being accepted in society as an equal.

The speaker expresses the idea that the table is a way to participate with others and to be considered and included as part of something bigger. The speaker's presence at the table "tomorrow" (line 8) is a hope for equality, for better times, and an assurance to the audience that perseverance for justice will end in victory.

"I, Too" by Langston Hughes Analysis

Langston Hughes is a skilled poet who used many literary devices to enhance the meaning of his works. His techniques give a unique and poignant perspective and communicate ideas in ways that are both enjoyable to read and memorable. Although there are other literary devices present within this poem, the important topics Hughes explores in "I, Too" have greater relevancy and deeper meaning through his use of refrain, enjambment, and allusion.

Refrain

Hughes uses refrains within the poem for emphasis and to open and close the poem, bringing the idea of inclusion and acceptance full circle.

A refrain is the repetition of a word, phrase, or line within lines of verse. The repetition emphasizes the importance of a specific idea. Typically, refrains occur at the start or end of stanzas, and can have the same phrase in each occurrence, or have slight variations.

The speaker echoes the title of the poem, "I, Too" within the first line and states, "I, too, sing America." This simple assertion reinforces the yearning many African-Americans have to be acknowledged, accepted, and valued within American society. "I, too" is a statement asking, and even demanding, recognition. The speaker expresses pride in America, and a desire to be part of the potential greatness that America offers. However, for many years—and certainly when Hughes penned "I, Too"— the African-American community was excluded from society and from opportunity.

As the poem's concluding line, the refrain is slightly different, providing a lasting impact and leaving meaning that resonates with the reader. In line 18 of the poem, the speaker states, "I, too, am America." Changing the verb in the refrain from "sing" to "am" shows a shift in status. The speaker initially sings the praise of America, but later comes to represent America.

Enjambment

The use of enjambment within "I, Too" is key to the meaning of the poem.

Enjambment is when the idea from one line is left incomplete and trickles over onto another line without the use of punctuation. The instinctive need for syntactical completion compels the reader forward to the next line.

Enjambment works within the poem to express the poem's central message of racism hurting America. Readers are in the position of the African-American community as we wait for the completion of an idea or an end. While ideas trickle from one line into another, the audience searches the next line for syntactical completion. The enjambment from lines 3-4 shows injustice and mistreatment. African-Americans in the United States, and particularly in the south, were waiting for their rights to be recognized, for their place in society, and for acceptance.

They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes"

(lines 3-4)

Another stylistic decision Hughes uses is his abrupt end-stops. The simple sentence in line 2 that states "I am the darker brother," and the single word "Then." in line 14 are examples of this. What effect do you think they have within the poem? What message is the poet trying to communicate through his use of abrupt end-stops?

An end-stopped line is a metrical line ending at a grammatical boundary or break, including a dash, closing parenthesis, colon, semi-colon, or period. It is a pause at the end of a line of poetry.

Allusion

Hughes includes an important allusion to another famous poet within "I, Too." It is worth noting as it adds weight to the message of inclusion within the poem.

An allusion is a passing reference to a well-known literary or historical person, place, thing, or event. It is often used to describe something else, to give weight to an argument, or to relate to the audience.

The allusion is in the first line of the poem, "I, too, sing America." It is a reference to Walt Whitman's poem "I Hear America Singing" (1860), a poem first published in Whitman's 1860 publication of Leaves of Grass. Whitman's poem is a patriotic celebration of the individual or the common person in America. In it, Whitman depicts a diverse and accepting America where individuals are valued and unified as they join in a common song, which signifies togetherness. However, Whitman wrote his poem before the Civil War and offers an idealized version of America, one which ignores the plight of African-Americans. By alluding to this poem, Hughes expresses his objection to the exclusion and demand to be recognized as part of the American people as well.

"I, Too" Langston Hughes Theme

The theme in "I, Too" by Langston Hughes is prevalent in many poems, pieces of literature, and songs written during the Harlem Renaissance. By dealing with themes of racism and the African-American identity, Hughes uses his 18-line poem to express the damaging effects of segregation, the need to end it, and the importance of a stable African-American identity.

In line 2 of the poem, the speaker asserts, "I am the darker brother." Because of this, the speaker is sent to the kitchen to eat and is excluded. However, through this experience, the speaker can find nourishment "and grow strong" (line 7). The ability to overcome the insult and rise from the slight of being excluded establishes resilience, a crucial trait of African-Americans during times of segregation and discrimination. Despite the oppression and mistreatment, the speaker acknowledges "how beautiful [he is]" (line 16) and expresses a strong sense of pride in his culture and race.

"I, Too" by Langston Hughes Meaning

The message of "I, Too" by Langston Hughes is one of unity throughout America, as African-Americans assert a place with, and equal to, others within society. The poetic voice speaks for all African-Americans excluded from society as a result of racist and discriminatory practices. The speaker establishes a sense of exclusion, shows how shocking the act of separation is, and reveals hope in "tomorrow" being different when he will be "at the table" (line 9).

I, Too - Key takeaways

  • "I, Too" is a poem written by the Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes, who is a voice for African-Americans.
  • "I, Too" is a free verse poem published in 1926.
  • Hughes uses refrain, enjambment, and allusion to enhance the meaning of his poem and communicate a message of acceptance for African-Americans in American society.
  • Hughes explores racism and African-American identity themes in "I, Too."
  • Walt Whitman's poem "I Hear America Singing" is alluded to in "I, Too."

Frequently Asked Questions about I, Too Langston Hughes

In "I, Too" (1926) Langston Hughes uses refrain, enjambment, and allusion to develop the message that African-Americans are also a part of and a viable representation of America.

"I, Too" was published in 1926 during the Harlem Renaissance. 

The message of "I, Too" by Langston Hughes is one of unity as African-Americans assert a place equal to others within American society.

"I, Too" is a free verse poem. 

Hughes wrote "I, Too" to express his experience as an African-American, to explore the need for unity and equality, and to provide a voice for other African-Americans.

Final I, Too Langston Hughes Quiz

Question

What type of poem is "I, Too"?

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Answer

"I, Too" is a free verse poem. 

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Question

What line from the poem reflects a pride in African-American identity? 

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Answer

"They’ll see how beautiful I am"

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Question

What is the theme of "I, Too"?

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Answer

"I, Too" deals with themes of racism and African-American identity. 

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Question

When was "I, Too" published? 

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Answer

"I, Too" was published in 1926 during the Harlem Renaissance. 

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Question

Why did Langston Hughes write "I, Too"? 

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Answer

Hughes wrote "I, Too" to express his experience as an African-American, to explore the need for unity and equality, and to provide a voice for other African-Americans. 


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Question

To what does Langston Hughes allude to in "I, Too"?

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Answer

A poem by Walt Whitman

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Question

What is an example of refrain within the poem? 

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Answer

"I, Too, am America"

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Question

Hughes uses all three literary devices in "I, Too" except

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Answer

Simile

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Question

What line in the poem reflects the idea that the speaker is isolated, or sent "to eat in the kitchen" (line 3) because of race? 

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Answer

"I am the darker brother."

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Question

Which line(s) from the poem is an example of enjambment? 

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Answer

"I’ll be at the table

When company comes." (lines 9-10)

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