The themes of seeking approval and race are weaved throughout the four poems assigned for this week. In life, we all desire to feel accepted and each speaker in these works face obstacles regarding rejection and judgment. In Langston Hughes’ “Theme for English B”, an African American student struggles for approval from his white teacher. The student writes the poem in response to his teacher’s seemingly impossible assignment, which asks him to write a page that tells the truth. The student writes about his life and the way he has been treated not only in school, but in society. His writing is meant to convey the message that even those his skin is a different color, his likes and beliefs may not be so different from those with white skin. The student’s “page for English B” gives him the opportunity to express his mind and reveal his emotions. He believes it is possible for a white man to learn from a black man, and in the reverse order as well because they can understand the opposite perspectives. The student wants the teacher to realize that although they are different, they are the same because they are both American. He expresses this idea by saying “You are white—yet a part of me, as I am part of you, / That’s American.”
Jeffrey Harrison’s “Fork” focuses on a student’s journey in becoming a writer, despite a lack of faith from a college professor. Since the student does not receive approval from this particular teacher, he steals a fork from the professor’s home during a class dinner there. As years pass after the theft, the student uses the fork as revenge towards the teacher, by traveling throughout Europe with the utensil, snapping pictures among monuments and mailing them back to the professor. At the end of the poem, the student realizes that the fork has “served its purpose” and mails it back to the professor. The student does this in order to prove the teacher’s doubts wrong regarding the student’s writing abilities.
In Lucille Clifton’s “this morning (for the girls of eastern high school), the speaker discusses being an outcast in school. She addresses the fact that she is an individual and of a different race, including the fact that she has flaws. He recognizes she is a “tall tree girl” and “a black bell” which describes her physical features and how she will “survive” with them because without these qualities, she would not be herself.
Julia Alvarez’s “Queens, 1963” involves how a mixture of races and ethnicities leads to conflict and challenges. The idea of “fitting in” also plays an important role in the poem. Each diverse family had moved to America for freedom and, although they had arrived at their new home, their racial background had prevented them from attaining the freedom that they dreamed about.
Being able to look at a person based on qualities and capabilities rather than appearance has become a complicated topic in society for a long time. Many times, people assume another person’s behavior and beliefs based on the way they look externally. Approval is not easily conquered by many, since society tends to hold such extreme standards and expectations. The idea of success, achievement, and proving someone wrong shows that anything is possible; it just depends on what lies on the inside.