The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Department of English

Questions for Langston Hughes


  1. What is the subject of the poem?
  2. Who is the speaker? What is his attitude towards his life?
  3. How is the reader expected to evaluate the speaker's choices? What lines of thought, word choices and images convey the poem's message?
  4. How does the arrangment of stanzas help convey the poem's content?

"Ma Lord"

  1. What are the poem's rhythms and stanza arrangment? What form of music does it resemble?
  2. What do you consider the poem's subject? What interpretation of African-American religion does it convey?
  3. What aspects of "Ma Lord"'s behavior provide an example for the speaker? What is the rationale behind the arrangment of topics?


  1. What does the poem reveal about the speaker's background? What has been/is his attitude towards his parents?
  2. What dilemma does he face?
  3. What is the poem's theme? How do its form and language choice help convey this?
  4. What is the effect of the use of strong rimes and ballad-stanza quatrains?

"The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain"

  1. What attitudes does Hughes believe are hurting the development of African-American art?
  2. What criticisms are levelled against himself? What does he see as one of the most important forms of African-American expression?
  3. What does he feel about censorship of subject matter? What attitude does he suggest a "Negro Artist" should take towards their potential black and white audiences?

"Letter to the Academy"

  1. Why does he address the dead writers of classics on the topic of revolution? What topics have they written about?
  2. What does Hughes mean by "revolution"?
  3. What is unusual about the poem's form? How does it suit the subject?
  4. What progress does Hughes think society has made thus far? What does he believe should be the purpose of art?
  5. What is the tone and effect of the last two lines? The use of "in the hell"?


  1. What is the poem's subject? How are humans contrasted with animals?
  2. What reflection does the poem make on the fate of animals?
  3. What is the effect of the poem's organization into three short stanzas?

On War: "Comment on War," "Peace," and "Wisdom and War"

  1. What does Hughes believe are the motives for armed conflict?
  2. In "Peace," what does he identify as the results of war?
  3. How are the form and tone of these poems designed to convey his point?

"Notes on Commercial Theatre"

  1. Who is the "you" addressed? What does the speaker think about the use of African-American music for mainstream commerical purposes?
  2. What does he hope for the future of African-American art?
  3. How does his rhetoric reinforce his meaning?

some to read: "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," "Southern Lady," "I Too Sing America," "Dream Boogie" and "Harlem," "The Negro Mother," "Cultural Exchange," and "Junior Addict."

  Copyright © 2010 Florence S Boos, The University of Iowa. All rights reserved.
  Page updated: September 3, 2010 22:56