In the article “Critical essay on ‘Theme for English B’” Chris Semansky seriously analyses the poem “Theme for English B” by Langston Hughes. His analysis focuses on the different selves that the creator of the poem has, which are influenced by age, race, professional and national identity. This evaluation first looks at the national identity of Langston Hughes as deduced from the poem, which is intertwined with his racial identity. Further, the essay evaluates the variations between Hughes and his instructor: the instructor being white while Hughes is black; the instructor, being the teacher, having authority above the student; and his teacher being older and freer.
Semansky’s essay excellently gathers what Hughes tries to communicate in his poem. This article is balanced in that, the author does not only state what is written in the poem, but he also gives his opinion which complements or question what Hughes says in the poem. Semansky makes valid points and critically analyses the poem chronologically relating each part with his thesis. Interestingly, even in his conclusion, he compares how two different instructors would respond to a student like the one in the poem who decides to question his instructor’s directions. While one instructor can see this poem as a student independent and creative thinking, another might see it as challenging his authority. I agree with Semansky that “self, rather than being coherent and autonomous, is the effect of relationships.” (Semansky 2). There is no singular way of defining the American experience, one’s experience is influenced by many factors and different people.
Semansky says that Hughes poem serves to show how difficult the teacher’s instructions, “Go home and write a page tonight” (2), were. Hughes provides a history of his home which Semansky (2) says it illustrates how difficult it is “to go home”. In explaining how difficult it is to go home, the poet exposes how faulty the teacher’s assumptions are. This assertion is valid because Hughes does not only talk about his origin but also the route he uses to go to his “current home.” The poem describing “home” in terms of the distance taken and the difficulty of it underscores how it is not simple to write the one page.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page (11-15).
One theme that cuts across Semansky’s critical essay is that an individual is neither one thing nor another. This point is validated by Hughes’ poem describing one point in light of another. When he talks of himself being black, he relates it to whites; “So will my page be colored that I write? /being me, it will not be white” (27-28). Also, when he talks about himself being young, he relates it to the age of the teacher. Again when he talks about his southern origin, he relates it to the North.
Semansky’s main idea is that the poem “Theme for English B” illustrates that self is not coherent and autonomous, rather, it is affected by the many relationships an individual has had. In this light, one cannot simplify even the most basic things, because they mean different things for different individuals.
Hughes Langston, Theme for English B” Poetry for Students. Ed. Mary Ruby. Vol. 6. Detroit: Gale Group, 1999. Literature Resource Center. Web. 8 Mar. 2013.
Semansky, Chris. “Critical Essay on ‘Theme for English B’.” Poetry for Students. Ed. Mary Ruby. Vol. 6. Detroit: Gale Group, 1999. Literature Resource Center. Web. 8 Mar. 2013.