Pride’s Transcendence to Hope: A Reflection on “I, Too”
Pride is often portrayed as a burr on the pristine coat of society. It is spoken down upon and condemned as the root cause of so many problems that come about in our culture. The Bible speaks of pride in much the same way. Proverbs 16:18 states, “Pride comes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” This human characteristic has long been seen as an eyesore within the human condition, but is there a time when pride can lead one out of destruction? Perhaps lead an entire race from the “kitchen to the table?” Upon reading “I, Too,” the reader is confronted with a strong statement of pride. This pride, however, is not based in arrogance; instead, it extends from the very core of what it means to be a human being and to be valuable and worthy.
Hughes begins his acclaimed poem by stating, “I, too, sing American” (1). Although subtle in its proclamation, this line of verse sets the strong and defiant tone of racial pride that the remainder of the piece accentuates. This is a direct affront to the societal norm of the white dominated social and political atmosphere of the time period. The first concept that the reader confronts is Hughes’ idealization of the brotherhood of all Americans that is transcendent of skin tone. One of Hughes’ personal purposes for writing was to implore the American nation to look beyond the obvious color of a person’s skin and into the character of the person inside. He wanted black Americans to be seen in an empowered standing, so the central theme of his writings always painted black Americans in a positive light, directing the attention of his writing specifically to what the black community had to offer the American people at the time.
Although Hughes’ writing was directed to cast a positive light onto the plight and the accomplishments of black Americans, he was not shy about stating his personal feelings about his idealization of the black race. He used his writing to enflame a generation to a level of racial pride that was previously unknown to the “darker brother.” “Tomorrow, /I’ll be at the table when company comes. /Nobody’ll dare /say to me, /‘Eat in the kitchen.’ /Then./ Besides, /they’ll see how beautiful I am /and be ashamed− /I, too, am American” (8-18). This passage screams of racial pride and calls for the utter decimation of racial prejudice in America. Hughes, along with writers such as W.E.B Dubois and Claude McKay, used their extreme affinity toward their own race, displayed in their writings, as a catalyst to begin to collect the tinder that would help to ignite the sweltering bonfire that engulfed an entire nation in the movement for the proper civil rights of black Americans that dominated the social and political landscape of the 1960s. Without such amazing writers, who unashamedly spoke so boldly and defiantly in the face of the racist attitude that had dominated the United States dating back to its inception, such a movement from obscurity to equality could never have occurred.
“I, too” is a keynote piece within the initial rumblings of the fight for equal civil rights, but it is also more than that. This poem, originally penned to bring to light the hope for racial equality, transcends the theme for which it was written. The hope of the lyric is perhaps more salient than even the evident racial pride that Hughes expresses within the verse. The inspirational transformation that happens from the beginning of the poem where Hughes states “I, too, sing American” (1) to the end where Hughes exclaims with a quiet finality “I, too, am American” (18) has a farther reaching prognosis encompassing much more than racial equality. This poem is a beacon to the downtrodden. It is a lifeline to those who feel like they are in their darkest hour. It is a call for the reader to look beyond the abysmal outlook of his or her current circumstance to the shining light that is the possible future that waits just beyond the horizon. It encompasses the ideal that one can move beyond his or her current circumstances to finally realize the dreams and goals that each has set to accomplish within the small sliver of time that is granted to all the members of the human race to leave a lasting impact on future of humanity.
Pride based in an arrogant attitude leads to destruction. This destructive pride is not the the attitude that Hughes expresses within “I, Too.” Instead, the racial pride within this poem is a call to the American people to transcend prejudice based solely upon the color of an individual’s skin. Racial pride is the root of this amazing piece, but the fruit of its branch is hope. Hope that one day equality would be more than a dream. Hope that a person’s life would not be pre-determined simply by the color of the individual’s skin. Instead, the hope of this poem is that the merit and achievement of an individual would be given more weight than something that is determined prior to birth and cannot change. This is a piece of empowerment to the weak and weary to look forward and to not lose the belief that circumstances do change when the individual is willing to put forth the effort to ensure that the change occurs regardless of naysayers. Hughes’ captivating writing was the voice of a generation. A voice that would not be silenced and continues to speak today in the whispers of the broken when they realize that hope is real, tangible, and attainable. “I, too, am American” (18).
Hughes, Langston. “I, too.” The Norton Anthology: American Literature. Shorter 7th Edition. Ed. Nina
Baym. New York: Norton Company, 2008. 2266.
Zondervan NIV Bible. Fully rev. ed. Kenneth L. Barker, gen. ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002.