I, Too Sing America: A Poetic Manifesto of Equality

Categories: Langston Hughes


The poem "I, Too Sing America" by Langston Hughes is a cornerstone of radical poetry, marking him as a pioneering figure in post-World War I American literature. Regarded by literary critics and historians as one of the earliest poets challenging ethnic nationalism, Hughes played a pivotal role in shaping the politics of the Harlem Renaissance. Charles S. Johnson's analysis of Black poetry recognized Hughes as the finest expression of a new racial consciousness, representing a departure from conventional norms (145).

The Harlem Renaissance and Racial Consciousness

Hughes's extensive body of work, including notable pieces such as "Our Land" and "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," reveals his profound sense of "race pride.

" Johnson affirms that Hughes's poetry is instrumental in the development of new Negro Poetry during the Harlem Renaissance (145). Onwuchekwa Jemie identifies Hughes as a black nationalist, underscoring the distinctiveness of Afro-Americans within the American nation (103). This recognition sets the stage for a detailed exploration of "I, Too Sing America," a poem that magnifies the individual within a marginalized group, highlighting the solitude experienced during an era of racial discrimination.

Get quality help now
Sweet V
Sweet V
checked Verified writer

Proficient in: America

star star star star 4.9 (984)

“ Ok, let me say I’m extremely satisfy with the result while it was a last minute thing. I really enjoy the effort put in. ”

avatar avatar avatar
+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

Examining Hughes's works, particularly "Our Land," "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," and the pivotal "I, Too Sing America," Johnson confirms that the poet possessed a strong sense of "race pride." He characterizes Hughes's poetry as "without doubt the finest expression of this new Negro Poetry" (145). This acknowledgment establishes Hughes as a trailblazer in expressing a new racial consciousness, laying the foundation for a literary movement that challenged the prevailing post-World War I ethnic nationalism.

Get to Know The Price Estimate For Your Paper
Number of pages
Email Invalid email

By clicking “Check Writers’ Offers”, you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy. We’ll occasionally send you promo and account related email

"You must agree to out terms of services and privacy policy"
Write my paper

You won’t be charged yet!

The Harlem Renaissance, a cultural, social, and artistic explosion that took place in the 1920s, saw the flourishing of African American literature, music, and art. Hughes's poetry played a crucial role in defining the ethos of this movement. The cultural and intellectual revival during this period sought to reclaim and celebrate Black identity, challenging stereotypes and promoting racial pride. Hughes, as a central figure in this movement, contributed to shaping a new narrative that defied the limitations imposed by the prevalent racial norms of the time.

The Intersection of Politics and Artistry

Some literary critiques categorize Hughes's "I Too Sing America" as radical poetry. However, it is crucial to note that if Hughes seemed to sacrifice artistry for politics in this poem, it was not an implicit admission that the two are mutually exclusive. Hughes's departure from the blues aesthetic of his early poems was a deliberate choice, as this aesthetic embraced a form of nationalism that he could no longer endorse (147). Hughes articulates his conviction that the primary responsibility of the black writer is to produce a racial literature drawn from African American life and culture. He writes, "We younger Negro artists who create... now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame" (309).

Onwuchekwa Jemie identifies Hughes as a black nationalist, emphasizing that "Hughes's insistence on a distinct black art ... is ... a recognition of the fact that Afro-Americans are a distinct people within the American nation" (103). "I, Too" creates a poignant portrayal of an individual versus a larger group, intensifying the feelings of loneliness. The poem unflinchingly acknowledges the actual inequality experienced by African Americans during a time of rampant racial discrimination. Hughes recognizes that despite differences in color, all people residing in America are Americans and deserve not just equality but dignity and honor. In this regard, the poem serves as a poetic precursor to the trends America experienced in the 1960s when the nominal equality of blacks became a focal point of societal change.

The Subtlety of Symbolism and Aesthetics

Hughes is not renowned for extensive use of symbolism; however, the symbolism he does employ in "I Too Sing America" is both profound and multi-layered. His poetry is generally straightforward, lacking hidden meanings, yet the few symbols utilized carry significant depth. The poem's psychological and cultural references encompass intergroup stereotyping, communication, cooperation, and conflict. The very title of the poem, disguised as a song, conceals its radicalism, portraying a deliberate fusion of the emotional, political, and a focus on black aesthetics.

The lines "I laugh / And eat well / And grow strong" encapsulate the overarching theme of hope and determination, providing insight into Hughes's stylistic approach. Humor, a recurring element in Hughes's writing, serves as a vehicle to convey his message. The laughter symbolizes thoughts of a brighter future – a future where joy prevails, and reflection becomes possible.

Eating, a seemingly mundane act, takes on symbolic significance, representing learning and knowledge acquisition. Hughes suggests that without knowledge, personal and societal progress is unattainable. "Growing strong" extends beyond individual growth; it symbolizes the strengthening of voices advocating for equality. The culmination of symbolism occurs in the last line: "I, too, am America." This powerful declaration challenges Walt Whitman's exclusive portrayal of the American people, asserting the inclusion of those previously forgotten and oppressed.

Poetic Realism and Cultural Depth

Psychological and cultural references in the poem are subtly interwoven, offering a nuanced exploration of the black experience. The metaphor of the "dark brother" conveys the black man's plight in society, emphasizing the societal association of darkness with evil. Hughes strategically employs the term "dark" to underscore the significance of "black" within the societal context. Eating in the kitchen symbolizes repression, mirroring the concealed suffering of African Americans during periods like slavery. Kitchens, hidden spaces, become metaphors for the overlooked struggles of an entire community.

The lines "Tomorrow / I'll be at the table / When company comes" mark a shift in the narrative, signaling that the "dark brothers" have learned and will no longer accept subjugation. The poem foretells a future where the strength of their voices prevails, challenging societal norms that relegated them to the shadows. The concluding lines emphasize the transformative power of black culture, its intelligence, and artistic versatility, serving as a catalyst for societal understanding and change.

Conclusion: A Timeless Testament to Equality

Langston Hughes, through "I, Too Sing America," transcends the boundaries of conventional poetry, offering a visionary call for equality and recognition. His deliberate use of straightforward language and profound symbolism creates a multifaceted narrative that addresses the complexities of race, culture, and societal dynamics. As the poem bridges the past and the future, it remains a timeless testament to the enduring struggle for equality and the transformative power of cultural expression.

Updated: Dec 15, 2023
Cite this page

I, Too Sing America: A Poetic Manifesto of Equality. (2016, Jul 18). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/i-too-sing-america-by-langston-hughes-essay

I, Too Sing America: A Poetic Manifesto of Equality essay
Live chat  with support 24/7

👋 Hi! I’m your smart assistant Amy!

Don’t know where to start? Type your requirements and I’ll connect you to an academic expert within 3 minutes.

get help with your assignment