2000Choose a poem which deals with an aspect of the less pleasant side of life. Show how the poem increases your knowledge and understanding of the aspect of life dealt with, and how the use of poetic technique contributes to the impact the poem had on you.


This is the question and what you have to do

These are where you make reference to the Question within the essay

POETIC – Purpose, organisation, emotive tone, techniques individual key words/phrases and finally contrast

A poem that deals with a less pleasant aspect of life is Langston Hughes’s ‘I, too, sing America’ which deals with racism. This was a counter-reaction to the so-called ‘Father of American Poetry’ Walt Whitman and his piece callemkm hear America singing’. As Hughes points out there were no Negroes or Native Americans portrayed in Whitman’s American society. Decades after Whitman’s death and a Civil War fought to emancipate slaves, Hughes writes about a life still being made less pleasant by the murderous discrimination and segregation prevalent within a racist American society. In [[#_msocom_1|[DAT1]]]Hughes’s poem I will discuss the techniques used within to make an impact on the reader and which increases their knowledge and understanding of the effect of racism on human beings which is, unfortunately, just as relevant today as it was in Hughes’s era of the 1930s.

Now discuss the purpose or theme – why is Hughes writing about this less pleasant aspect of human life/nature?

Hughes’s purpose in writing this poem was to show how his Negro subject was treated but also to highlight his hopes for the future when an American was an American by birth not because of the colour of his skin or religious habits. The poem [[#_msocom_2|[DAT2]]]hree verses of unequal length with a single line top and bottom which add to the impact of the imagery framed within these two lines.

Tone – what tone does the writer use? Does it change? Is it effective in making the reader think about why this tone is used?

This could have been a poem with a very bitter tone, one of complaint without saying if or how life could be made more pleasant. Instead, the tone is one of sarcasm initially as the poet describes the failings of American society; a direct opposite to Whitman’s claimed Utopia. Then the tone changes. It becomes hopeful and shows a willingness to believe that such unpleasant aspects of life cannot, and should not, last. He shows by his tone at the beginning that he will, if necessary, ‘eat well/And grow strong’ so he can fight for his rights. But the latter parts illustrate his wish and hope that in the future (‘Tomorrow’) he will not need to fight as society will become ‘ashamed’ and see (how) ‘beautiful’ (he) is and behave like the Christians they claim to be and treat all men as equal.

Now find key words that make an impact or emphasise aspects of the poem which give you a deeper understanding into the purpose or theme for example

A key word in all of this is ‘America’. If Whitman’s America was immigrants, workers, farmers, housewives and carpenters, then Hughes’s America is the same but with an additional, less pleasant part. This is the ‘hidden’ America, where former slaves and their descendents are sent to the kitchen whenever ‘company comes’. Most Americans in the early days regarded their society as a ‘melting pot’ where ALL immigrants, regardless of country of origin went into a pot and the result was America, a multinational (but not multiracial) society proud of its immigrant roots and working together for the American Dream. But again, in an image that confirms Hughes’s views, this pot was white in colour, ignoring Negro saes, Chinese labourers and the aboriginal inhabitants. Nowadays the term ‘salad bowl’ is used to denote an America of equal but different parts, multicultural, multiracial and multicoloured. Hughes’s poem had an impact on the way his 1930s society regarded itself and also leads to a deeper understanding and knowledge of how America changed over the years.

Contrast – a well written poem will always show contrast – think about what type of contrast is here; between people and societies, symbolism of god versus evil, dark against light etc. Also think about contrast in tone, word choice and figures of speech such as metaphor or simile.

Another technique used in the poem is contrast. All well written poetry has contrast and this poem has several examples within. The main contrast that portrays the image of a divided society, and the hidden less pleasant aspects of it is a physical one. Black people are hidden away when white people come to visit; they are treated differently. The author describes segregation where he is sent away or hidden when ‘company comes’ and he is not allowed to share in the conversation, food and company that sitting at the table entails. Another contrast is in the tone used to show the subject’s attitude. He will go to the kitchen but he will also ‘eat well/And grow strong’ so that in the future ‘Tomorrow’ ‘Nobody’ll dare’ send him away. He also expresses his hope that the way Christians behave towards him now will contrast with the way they treat him in future when they are ‘ashamed’ and will follow their teachings by treating all races equally. Also within the poem there is a more philosophical contrast between the white masters and their ‘darker brothers’ who are symbolic to the whites of an evil individual not a brother at all. This contrast shows an image of a fight between white and black, good and evil, dark and light.

Conclusion – summarise what you’ve said, give a personal opinion and answer the question.

In conclusion, this poem has an impact because it reminds us that America (and society worldwide) is not a truly perfect one. There will always be hidden groups who are hiding for protection (Jews for example) or because their society refuses to accept them (gays in Iran). My own knowledge and understanding of these less pleasant aspects of life and society in general has been improved as the poem’s impact forces me to consider and thus remember that there are unpleasant things going on in life. It reminds us that we should all strive to remove this unpleasantness and Hughes’s poem shows us that if we hope for change, eventually it will come to pass. This short poem had a significant impact at the time of writing and resonates even today a century later.

Actual essay 850 words.

[[#_msoanchor_1|[DAT1]]]What other words could you use? Examine? Look at? Discuss?

[[#_msoanchor_2|[DAT2]]]Organisation of the poem – layout. Anything that stands out? Is there a framing verse or line. A turning point that stands out?