Cross, Langston Hughes: Summary & Analysis

"Cross" by Langston Hughes is a reflective and introspective poem that explores the complexities of identity, family, and racial heritage. Through the experiences and emotions of the speaker, the poem delves into the internal conflicts and self-discovery that arise from navigating between racial and social divides.

Cross by Langston Hughes

My old man's a white old man
And my old mother's black.
If ever I cursed my white old man
I take my curses back.
If ever I cursed my black old mother
And wished she were in hell,
I'm sorry for that evil wish
And now I wish her well
My old man died in a fine big house.
My ma died in a shack.
I wonder where I'm going to die,
Being neither white nor black?

Summary

"Cross" delves into the internal struggles and reconciliations within the speaker's identity. The poem reveals the speaker's recognition of the impact of both their white father and black mother, leading them to reevaluate their past judgments and attitudes towards their parents. The speaker reflects on the disparities in their parents' lives and grapples with the question of where they fit within a society that often categorizes individuals solely by race.

Critical Analysis

"Cross" offers a poignant exploration of identity and the inherent complexities of racial heritage. The poem addresses themes of family, self-acceptance, and societal expectations. The speaker's admission of past curses and negative wishes directed at their parents, followed by expressions of remorse and well-wishing, signifies a process of self-awareness and growth. The speaker's contemplation about where they will die "Being neither white nor black?" encapsulates their struggle to find their place within a world that often reduces people to racial categories.

Themes of the Poem

  • Identity and Racial Heritage: The poem delves into the challenges and internal conflicts of a mixed-race individual navigating their identity within a society that often forces rigid racial classifications.
  • Familial Relationships: The poem explores the complexities of the speaker's relationships with their parents, acknowledging the impact of both their white father and black mother.
  • Self-Discovery: The poem portrays the speaker's journey of self-reflection and self-discovery as they reevaluate their attitudes and emotions.

Stylistic Analysis

  • Contrast: The poem contrasts the circumstances and experiences of the speaker's white father and black mother, highlighting the disparities in their lives.
  • Shift in Tone: The poem's shift from negative curses to remorse and well-wishing reflects the speaker's changing perspective and personal growth.

Attitudes/Feelings

  • Remorse and Reconciliation: The poem portrays the speaker's feelings of regret for their past negative thoughts and wishes towards their parents and their subsequent desire for reconciliation.
  • Confusion and Identity Crisis: The poem conveys the speaker's uncertainty about where they belong in a world that categorizes individuals based on race.

Language

  • Contrasting Imagery: The contrasting imagery of the "fine big house" and the "shack" emphasizes the differences in the parents' lives and societal positions.
  • Self-Reflection: The poem uses the first-person perspective to provide insight into the speaker's thoughts and emotional journey.

Sound Devices

  • Repetition: The repetition of phrases like "My old man" and "My ma" underscores the speaker's contemplation of their parents' lives.
  • Rhyme: The poem's rhyme scheme enhances its rhythmic flow and contributes to its readability.

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