Major Themes in Langston Hughes’s Poems
The poem “Mother to Son”(1305) were published in 1921, “Ballad of the Landlord”(1315) in 1934 and “Madam and the Rent Man”(1316) in 1940 and revised in 1955 by Langston Hughes during the period of Harlem Renaissance. He defined the spirit of age through his poems and been referred to as the leader this era. The three poems are a didactic and lyrical ballad, which means they are made to teach and tell a story. The first poem is has a stitchic structure since the lines of the poem are not divided into stanzas like the other two poems where they would have strophic structure. They all express the hardship that poetic speaker went through by describing particular circumstances that every story expressed in the poems. They carry the most themes of Langston Hughes about African American struggle they had to go through in that period.
In the poem “Mother to Son” the poetic speaker is trying to give the idea of hope and encouragement to move forward in life no matter what kind of difficulties human might face along with his journey of living. The mother in the poem is trying to advise her young son that “Life for”(I. 2.) her “ain’t been no crystal stair.”(I. 2.). That mean her it wasn’t easy to live and survive all this time. She tells him that “It’s had tacks in it, And splinters, And boards torn up, And places with no carpet on the floor”(IV. 3-6.). The mother explained to her son that not everything was available for her comfort, and she said to him “Bare”(I. 7.) that live off poor people and to bear that kind of condition that she had gone through. With all those hardships she kept “climbin’ on, And reachin’ landin’s, And turnin’ corners, And sometimes goin’ in the dark where there ain’t been no light”(V. 9-13.). She was struggling all the time to stay alive bearing all the hardship she faces and asking her son to be like her, a fighter to keep living. The word light there has two meaning, the first one is the visible light, and the other one is the lack of guidance that been sometimes missing through her process of struggling. The poetic speaker uses “crystal stair”(I. 2.) as a metaphor to describe how difficult her life was but even though she kept climbing that stair to stay alive with her son and now she’s teaching and encouraging him what she has learned from her experience.
“Ballad of the Landlord” poem speaks about the house of the poetic speaker; it has a hole in the roof and the landlord been informed about it as well as about the broken steps. The landlord didn’t do anything about those, and he came to ask for the tenancy. The man said that he wouldn't pay him the rent until he fixes the house “up new.”(I. 12.) The landlord warned him that he will throw his belonging in the streets and will cut the “heat”(I. 14.) from his house if he didn’t pay. But the poetic spoken threatened the landlord that he would hit him before he can do anything. The owner of the land called the police and said to them that the man is “trying to ruin the government”(I. 23.) and to take over the land from him. The man ends up being taking by the police and thrown in jail for 90 days, and that news gets put on the newspaper. Therefore, this poem shows the life of Negro at that time where their houses being ignored and not taking care of by their owner just because they are blacks. That’s how African American suffer from discrimination and equal rights that they don’t have at the time. Langston Hughes describe every detail in the in the story to make it dramatical from the conversation with the landlord to the police image arresting the man and specifying what written exactly in the newspaper about tenant incident.
The last poem “Madam and the Rent Man” carry the same theme as the one before. It takes about the relationship between the owner and the tenant but instead of the proprietor itself there will be the mediator who gathers the tenancies from the tenant for the landlord. So in the poem “The rent man knocked”(I. 1.) the door of the madam to ask for the money it’s due for her to pay. The women said to him that she would rather go to hell and not pay; she told him that there is no water, and the “sink is broke”(I. 11.) and that they didn’t do anything they promise to fix the house. Then she continues describing how her house is horrible, weaken and contain rats. After that the man told her that he’s just an “agent”(I. 21.) to collect money, but the women said that you only need to “pass”(I. 24.) the message and money he won’t get. In the end, the “agent” said that he’s not happy about what’s happening, and the Madam replayed that she feels the same way. So the poetic speaker at the end thought that they agree with the conclusion of their conversation. But they only agree that they are not “pleased”(I. 28.) about what's happening, and that doesn’t mean that they find the solution to their problem. The women want her house to get fixed, and the man doesn't want to lose his job because he couldn’t take the man from the women to give to the owner. The Madam tried to explain that he’s doing his job by passing the responsibilities, and that won’t interfere with his job. The tone of the poem was serious and humorous showing the conversation between the collector and the tenant. So, it also views how are the living condition for black at that time just like the poem “Ballad of the Landlord”.
The three poems represent hard work and struggle of life the poetic speaker's gone through. It takes about racial discrimination for African-American in that period and how they get treated by house owners and government. It also talks about family conditions and where they live from what we have read in the poems. Also, it expresses their struggle to live and keep fighting no matter what the circumstance that they face. In the “Ballad of the Landlord” and “Madam and the Rent Man” were divided into stanzas to show and separate the conversation between the characters in the stories; the first one was more dramatical describing the events since its ballad which means a song. While the other one was to show the serious conflict, the two characters face to accomplish their task and look less dramatic. But the “Mother to Son” was all one structure and not divided into stanzas which make us focus in the way motherhood and single parents have to go through to provide a decent living for their family. The poetic speakers also use metaphor in that poem to express the pure and profound meaning that hidden behind the word in the contexts.
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