Theme for English B


Hughes, Langston




Langston Hughes was one of the foremost writers of the 1920s Harlem Renaissance, a movement which, in the words of Du Bose Heyward, "dignif[ied] Harlem with a genuine art life." Hughes' subject for his writing and his source for truth and profundity was the lives of ordiary black people. This angered the burgeoning black intelligentsia, who wanted to present white readers with a polished, cultured view of blacks. Nevertheless, Hughes succeeded in voicing the truths, hopes, and concerns of life in Harlem; as its spokesman he created poetry that has endured through many decades of racial strife. "Theme for English B" depicts a black student who is trying to find his own identity--as well as unity with those in the college classroom around him--in terms of characteristics, both external and internal. What is the narrator's reason for choosing the characteristics he does? What barriers or ties does this create, and how do his choices work for or against the idea of "America" that the narrator and his white instructor share?

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Reading - Short Enough to Read Aloud.


Connection and RelationshipDiversity and DifferenceHeritage and TraditionIdentity and CommunityJustice and EqualityKnowledge and UncertaintyPower and PrivilegeRace, Ethnicity and CultureTeaching and Learning

Big Questions

What makes it possible for us to connect to others? What gets in the way?How do we connect with those who are different from us?How do we learn to have dialogue across difference? What does it look like?Is difference a problem, an opportunity, a challenge or a gift?How have my past and heritage shaped me?How do we define who we are?What is the value of uncertainty?How do we know or identify privilege?How does race affect our relations to others?What does good teaching look like?


Civically Engaged Reader

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. In what sense will the page that comes out of the teacher’s assignment be “true”?
  2. What conditions does the instructor give to ensure that it will be true, and why those conditions?
  3. What is the purpose of the assignment?
  4. Why does the narrator respond to the assignment by thinking of differences?
  5. What kinds of differences matter most to the narrator?
  6. What separates the narrator from his fellow classmates and his instructor?
  7. What is the America that the narrator and his instructor share?
  8. What kind of relationship is the narrator looking to have with the instructor?
  9. Does an instructor need to know about a student to be able to teach him or her? What should be known?
  10. How do differences affect our connections to others?
  11. In relating to others, how do we deal with race?
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