The persona’s lecturer gave him an assignment to write a page that reflects ‘him’, or his character. The persona wonders if this is a simple task, and begins to think about his life. Things like his age, place of birth, race and place of residence. Based on these musings, he surmises that he is confused due to his youth. He guesses that he is what he feels, sees and hears, which is Harlem, New York. He continues his musing about what he likes, and concludes that he likes the same things that people of other races like. On this basis, he questions whether or not his page will be influenced by race. He concludes that it will not be white. He admits that his instructor, as well as the fact that this instructor is white, will have some influence on his page. He states that they both influence each other, that is what being American is about. He believes that both of them might not want to influence each other, but it cannot be helped. He concludes that both of them will learn from each other, despite the fact that the instructor has the advantage of being older, white and ‘more free’. All of these musings and conclusions become his page for English B.
Stanza 2, line 6: The persona ponders the ease of what he is asked to do. This question, in turn, actually highlights the difficult nature of the task.
Stanza 3, line24: This question highlights the persona’s confusion as to who he is, or his character. He is unsure.
Stanza 4, line 32: The persona is wondering whether his race will affect what he writes on the page. This is despite the fact that he concludes that race does not hinder people, in general, liking the same things.
- REPETITIONThis repetition emphasizes the profound impact that Harlem, New York, has had on the personality of the persona.
IMPORTANT WORDS/ PHRASES
3.’here to this college on the hill above Harlem.’
The fact that the college is on a hill, above Harlem, is very important. It highlights the fact that the college is a superior entity. The people of Harlem look up at it, showing their inferiority.
4.’I am the only colored student in the class.’
This line emphasizes the persona’s ‘otherness’ in relation to every-one else in the class. He is different. The isolation of the sentence (enclosed by full stops/periods) also emphasizes the persona’s ‘otherness’.
5.’The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem, through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas, Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y, the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator up to my room’
This line highlights the fact that the college is a great distance from his home. This distance is also metaphorical because it is implied that the experiences that he has at the college are also a great distance from the experiences that he has in Harlem. They are two different worlds.
6.’But it will be a part of you, instructor. You are white – yet a part of me, as I am a part of you. That’s American.’
This statement reveals the fact that America is viewed as a melting pot by the persona. He believes that different races and cultures influence each other, thereby forming the term ‘American’.
7.As I learn from you, I guess you learn from me – although you’re older – and white – and somewhat more free.
This statement, by the persona, repeats his belief that the American society is a melting pot. It also, however, states that not every-one is equal within this society.
* It is interesting to note that the persona’s ‘page for English B’ becomes a journey of self discovery that actually does not end. He forms no conclusion as to who he is because his personality is still ‘in process’
MOOD/ ATMOSPHERE The mood of the poem is reflective.
TONE The tone of the poem is also reflective.
THEMES: Racism, places