There is a lot of movement in this poem. First, there is the movement of the “darker brother” into the kitchen. The connotation of kitchen is the place not reserved for company. Company does not go in the kitchen, let alone eat there. Company sits in the living room or dining room, has cloth napkins and eats of china. So there is the movement or removal of the speaker into the kitchen.
Then there is the company coming. And they come twice; once in the first stanza, once in the second. But by the second, the speaker has moved, again, this time to the table. And he hasn’t really been invited. He says “Nobody’ll dare/Say to me,/”Eat in the kitchen,”/Then.
The word “Then” stands out. It is placed all by itself in a line at the end of stanza two, so it seems important. It contradicts the “now” when the speaker is eating in the kitchen. It gives me a feeling of threat. Coupled with the word “dare”, “then” seems like a threat. This threat is ratcheted up by the word “ashamed” I’m in the kitchen, now, but then I’ll be sitting at the table, and you will be ashamed when you notice I am beautiful and you have cast me out. So the movement begins with the speakers expulsion to the kitchen, then his taking back his place at the table, and the people sitting with him realizing he is beautiful and becoming ashamed. This is a movement not of place, but of spirit, of consciousness, and of power.
The movement concludes with the line “I, too, am America.” No longer is he singing the blues from the kitchen – he is the blues. He is America.
I also love the extended metaphor of the dinner table, eating, the kitchen, and the dining room. It lands for me on two levels. One: America is the land of opportunity, the breadbasket, the land of plenty. So, to have the poem revolve around a meal is a great symbol for what America puts out there as it’s claim to fame. And yet, while we talk a good talk about our multi-cultural, multi-ethnic society, everyone is clearly not dining at the same table, let alone in the same room! Two: the kitchen is where the servants eat (or the little kids, in my family at Thanksgiving.) It’s the place where those we don’t want to be seen or heard are sent when the grown ups or the important people dine together. He is being segregated. But the speaker will not accept this from anyone. Even though he goes at first, he goes singing. And he doesn’t stay there.
Facts included or omitted based on speaker’s perspective.
Very straightforward language. The poet is pulling no punches. He doesn’t pretty up what he is saying, it’s very simple and clear – like he wants us to get it. If you are warning someone, you don’t mess around, you just do it!
Strong statements in how the lines are turned:
I am the darker brother.
But I laugh.
All very stark. Hughes singles out his messages in sharp, pointed lines.
SHIFTS: As noted before, there is a shift from stanza one to stanza two when he is first sent to the kitchen, then comes to sit at the table. Stanza three shifts, again, when people kind of see him for the first time, realize he is beautiful, and are ashamed for segregating him.
TITLE:He is singing America, but it is a different song than many that have been sung. This is not “America the Beautiful,” this is “Let My People Go.”
THEME: This poem is about segregation – about those in power pushing those without aside. To those being pushed aside, he is saying come out of the kitchen and take your rightful place at the table. For those already seated, this poem is a warning that they are going to be ashamed of themselves and their actions, because not only is the person they separated themselves from as good as they are, he is beautiful! The theme, then is revolution, desegregation, and an understanding of human beauty and dignity.
AmStud TP-CASTT of “I, too, sing America” by Langston Hughes Ms. Knox