A Poem by Langston Hughes (1902-1967)
A Study Guide
Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings..© 2008
Type of Work and Date of Publication
is a lyric poem expressing in first-person point of view the feelings of
a person with a white father and a black mother. (Although Langston Hughes's
parents were both black, he well understood the confusion and conflict
that a person of mixed heritage experienced). Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., published
the poem in January 1926 in a collection entitled The Weary Blues.
.......The title of the poem contains several meanings, all of which underscore the main theme: the inner turmoil the speaker feels because of his (or her) mixed racial heritage. These meanings include the following:
Anger: The speaker
has been angry, or "cross," with his father and mother for passing on to
him an amalgam of genes. After his anger subsides,
he forgives them but remains in turmoil over his mixed heritage.
poem contains three four-line stanzas (quatrains). The first stanza has
28 syllables; the second, 30; and the third, 30. The first ten lines present
declarative sentences establishing the situation; the last two sum up the
conflict and theme in the form of a question. Lines 2 and 4 of each stanza
contain masculine end rhyme (black, back; hell, well; shack,
black). (Masculine rhyme occurs when the final syllable of one line
rhymes with the final syllable of another line. Feminine rhyme, on the
other hand, occurs when two final syllables of one line rhyme with two
final syllables of another line. Examples of feminine rhyme are repeat,
deplete; farrow, narrow; scarlet; varlet.)
.......The poem moves along rhythmically, like a song. Stress, rhyme, and alliteration all contribute to this musical effect. Note, for example, the use of the alliterating m and w sounds in the poem:
My old man's a white old manRepetition of key words and phrases also promote musicality in the poem, like the refrain of a song. For example, the word old occurs six times and the phrase if ever I cursed occurs twice.
.......The appeal of Hughes's poetry lies in large part in his ability to express profound ideas in simple language. Most of the words in the poem contain a single syllable. No word contains more than two syllables.
a novel, short story, or poem, any writer can become part of the work by
assuming a persona that may or may not resemble his or her own in real
life. The writer may even take the part of an animal or thing. In "Cross,"
Langston Hughes, the son of two black parents, assumes the persona of a
person with a white father and a black mother. Doing so enables him to
present with the force of first-person point of view what he believes are
the thoughts and conflicts of another person. In the poem "My
Last Duchess," Robert Browning assumes the persona of a proud Italian
duke who may have murdered his wife. In the poem "Grass,"
Carl Sandburg assumes the persona of grass that grows over a battlefield.
In the short story "The Black Cat,"
Edgar Allan Poe assumes the persona of a madman. In the novel Moby
Dick, Herman Melville assumes the persona of a young seaman on
a whaling ship.
Study Questions and Essay Topics
between whites and blacks are more commonplace in America today than in
the past. What is the prevailing attitude of the general population, including
whites and blacks, toward children of mixed racial heritage?