Hughes’s poem ‘‘I, Too’’ explores the duality of identity that defined black life in the United States in the 1920s. Black Americans claimed citizenship in a country that denied black citizens the same rights that were provided to white citizens. The poet claims that he is an American and entitled to the same privileges as all other Americans, including the right to eat with Americans of any racial or ethnic background. ‘‘I, Too’’ shows the poet trying to establish his identity through the progress of the poem. In the beginning of the poem, the narrator embraces his right to sing America, the same as all other people who sing to celebrate America. Ironically, his identity as an American grows stronger each time he is cast out of American society. Each time he is excluded, the process reinforces his identity as an American, until he is finally strong enough to demand that he be recognized as an American. By the last line of the poem, the narrator no longer sings of America’s greatness; he is America’s greatness. He is ready to claim the identity that has been too-long denied him. He is an American.
Equality & Inequality
In Hughes’s poem, the poet shares his hope for a future in which all black people will share equally with white people. The poet looks toward a tomorrow in which black Americans will be invited to sit at the table with white Americans and share in the same dreams and opportunities that white people have enjoyed. Hughes is not only demanding equality for all black people, he is demanding that black people no longer be willing to leave the table just for white people to use. The poet envisions a future when all will sit at the same table, when equality will not be a dream but a reality. In stanza 2, when he promises that he will grow stronger, he is rejecting the world as it exists and claiming a world that will exist tomorrow. The ‘‘tomorrow’’ of the poem is still a dream, but it is representative of the dreams of a better life that caused so many immigrants to leave their homes and come to the United States. It is the promise of a future in which every person will have the opportunity to live the American dream. This is a tomorrow when all human beings will be recognized as beautiful and equally deserving of life. For Hughes, the dream is still just that—a dream. But he does promise that when he is strong enough, no one will dare to deny him what he deserves: the same chance, the same opportunity, the same equality that all white Americans enjoy.
In ‘‘I, Too’’ the poet demands that basic rights for all humanity be extended to all people, regardless of skin color. In the second stanza, the poet states that black people are not invited to sit at the same table as their white brothers. Instead, blacks are relegated to the kitchen, where the reader presumes that less important people congregate. The table and the kitchen in the poem are symbolic of the many areas in which blacks and whites are separated. They are separated in restaurants, as the poem suggests, and they are separated on public transportation, in theaters, and in public restrooms. African Americans also live in separate neighborhoods and are offered lower-paying jobs. They attend segregated schools and are often subject to violent attacks. All of this segregation is represented by the metaphor of the kitchen. He envisions a future in which all people will sit at the same table. Blacks and whites will attend the same schools and live in the same neighborhoods. The poet goes beyond hoping that tomorrow will be better for black Americans; he proclaims that it will be so. His claim that he is also an American is a call for the end of segregation.
Poetry for Students, Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Poetry, Volume 30, Langston Hughes, Gale Cengage Learning, 2009