18 pages 36 minutes read

Langston Hughes

I, Too

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1926

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.

Summary and Study Guide


“I, Too” (1926) is an American political poem by Langston Hughes (1901-1967). Written during the Harlem Renaissance, the poem is composed in free verse and lacks a set rhyme scheme or meter. “I, Too” argues for the value of Black Americans in a society that, to that point, did not value Black people nor consider them equal to white people. The poem embraces the view that Black Americans belong in America just as white people do, that they contribute to America just as white people do, and that they should and will win the respect and consideration they deserve. Hughes argues that America will one day look at the treatment of Black Americans with shame. At the same time, the poem is a response to Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing” (1860)—a poem about the collective harmony and commitment of Americans to work, country, and one another. In some ways, “I, Too” is a patriotic poem dedicated to the promises of America. It is often included in collections of Hughes’s best work, and most critics consider it a staple poem of the Harlem Renaissance.

Poet Biography

Langston Hughes (1901-1967) was an American poet born in Jolin, Missouri, but most known for his residency in Harlem, New York, and his contributions to the Harlem Renaissance. Raised by his grandmother and continually on the move, Hughes eventually settled in Cleveland, Ohio, where he lived with his mother and his stepfather until graduating from high school. In school, Hughes began writing poetry, mostly at the insistence of white classmates who believed Hughes, as a Black person, had a natural rhythm. After high school, Hughes spent some time at university before dropping out and taking to the sea, working on a ship that traveled the world.

After traveling, Hughes eventually enrolled at Lincoln University where he earned a B.A. in 1929. After college, Hughes moved to Harlem, where he would spend the rest of his life.

Hughes’s literary career took off in the mid-1920s with the publication of his book of poems The Weary Blues (1926). Hughes’s poetry incorporated common vernacular, formal tradition, and contemporary African American words, images, and sounds.

While most people know Hughes for his poetry, he also published short stories, novels, and plays, including the Broadway play Mullato (1935). Later in the 1940s and 1950s, Hughes worked on a number of collections featuring African American literature, including The Poetry of the Negro (1949).

Hughes died in 1967 from complications from surgery. He left a giant legacy among 20th century American writers. His poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” is one of the most famous American poems. Most critics remember Hughes as an authentic and powerful voice in the history of African American literature and culture.

Poem Text

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes,

But I laugh,

And eat well,

And grow strong.


I’ll be at the table

When company comes.

Nobody’ll dare

Say to me,

“Eat in the kitchen,”



They’ll see how beautiful I am

And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

Hughes, Langston. “I, Too.” 1926. Poetry Foundation.


The speaker opens the poem with an unclear adverb: too. The title and first line seem to be responding to someone unnamed who came before the poem.

The speaker moves to a description of his life. He calls himself the “darker brother” (Line 2) and says an unknown “they” do not let him dine at the table with them; instead, “they” send him to the kitchen whenever others arrive to share a meal with “them.”

The speaker does not fret over this. In confident, if not threatening, language, the speaker laughs off this slight and says he will “eat well, / And grow strong” (Lines 6-7).

The next stanza makes a leap to a vague “tomorrow” where the speaker will have gained the respect and appreciation, he believes he deserves: he will no longer sit in the kitchen but will sit at the table. He takes on a determined voice, using the contraction “Nobody’ll” (Line 11) and the powerful verb phrase “dare say” (Lines 11-12) to show he is serious that the change will come.

The poem concludes with the speaker using a hopeful, perhaps naive, tone. He says the people who sent him to the kitchen will feel ashamed for their behavior because they will realize how beautiful he is.

The final line of the poem echoes the structure of the first line. Now the speaker makes the “too” clear: He implies that the “too” in the first line refers to the “them” throughout the poem. The speaker declares that he is just as American as “them,” which means he is just as valuable and beautiful.

blurred text
blurred text
blurred text
blurred text
blurred text
blurred text
blurred text
blurred text