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Poetry Explication

In: English and Literature

Submitted By ebone1819
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Langston Hughes’s Theme for English B and Sherman Alexie’s On the Amtrak from Boston to New York City
LTRE 421
July 13, 2016

The subject in Theme for English B a 22-year-old man who is trying to find out exactly who he is. The teacher tells him to go home and write a page tonight; this page should come from himself and be true. The speaker wonders if it is that simple. Is something true simply because it comes out of one person's self? Is truth the same thing for a black youth like him as it is for the white professor? In the poem On the Amtrak from Boston to New York City the author introduces two characters from different walks of life, which are brought together on an Amtrak from Boston to New York. Even though these two characters are on the same Amtrak, their cultural perspectives and differences separate them. The poem also offers commentary on the history of Native Americans versus the history of white Americans.
Both of these poems contain historical context relating to race in America. In Theme for English B, wrapped up in the speaker's search for his identity is the idea of his race. He's black, born in the South, but now lives in Harlem. As this man is trying to find out who he is, America is full of racial tension, and hasn't really reached a stable identity itself. He's the only black person in his class, and that includes his instructor. When he sits down to write a page that's supposed to be true, he can't help but feel that, when people aren't equally free, then they're not going to have the same truth. In the beginning of On the Amtrak from Boston to New York City, Alexie points out the irony of what the white women is saying to him. Though she marvels over a 200-year-old house, Alexie points out that Native American architecture, though not literal, is “15,000 years older” than the house. In saying this, he is referencing the fact that Native Americans inhabited the lands long before anyone else.
Theme for English B and On the Amtrak from Boston to New York City are both examples of contemporary poetry. They are both written in free verse. The authors focus more on suggesting an idea than outright stating it. This leaves the reader to draw his/her own conclusions and meanings. Neither poem contains any similes, metaphors, or personifications. However, in Theme for English B, Hughes uses a double negative in line 25: “I guess being colored doesn't make me NOT like the same things other folks like who are other races." The figurative language is Hughes saying that the instructor and himself are part of each other. It is physically impossible, but he means more like mentally or rather they are part of a whole group of people.
In both poems the main subjects are minorities dealing with prejudice issues. Throughout the poem, Hughes discusses the difference between being colored and white, whether it's race, or a piece of paper. He asserts that there are multiple types of Americans, and there is no singular defining "American" experience. Black, white, young, old, oppressed, free – all can strive for a piece of the American Dream. Sherman Alexie offers a critique of the typical American ignorance as well as a commentary on the history of Native Americans. He identifies the irony and the narrow-mindedness of the white woman's comments, and acknowledges that his people have been there longer than anyone else.
The difference in Theme for English B and On the Amtrak from Boston to New York City is the overall tone of the poems. The speaker in Theme for English B argues that even though there may be racial tension in America, the races are a part of each other. He recognizes that they can both learn from each other even though the instructor has the superficial advantages of being older, white, and “more free.” The speaker in On the Amtrak from Boston to New York City is very negative and angry. He reveals that he thinks white people are the problem of the country. He refers to all other races as, “the enemy”.
Theme for English B is written in free verse and lacks a systematic form or meter. Its language is simple and casual, and it flows in a stream-of-consciousness style. There are puns throughout the poem. The discussion of black and white here is clever. Through the use of irony, profanity, and symbolism, On the Amtrak from Boston to New York City grasps the attention of the reader and explains true American history. The reader can infer that the theme of the poem is about the conflict of cultural differences and values.

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