The Panther and the Lash [v2.5]
I am the American heartbreak— The rock on which Freedom Stumped its toe— The great mistake That Jamestown made Long ago. — Langston Hughes, “American Heartbreak” From the publication of his first book in 1926, Langston Hughes was America’s acknowledged poet of color, the first to commemorate the experience—and suffering—of African Americans in a voice that no reader, black or white, could fail to hear. In this, his last collection of verse, Hughes’s voice is more pointed than ever before, as he explicitly addresses the racial politics of the sixties in such pieces as “Prime,” “Motto,” “Dream Deferred,” “Frederick Douglass: 1817-1895,” “Still Here,” “Birmingham Sunday,” “History,” “Slave,” “Warning,” and “Daybreak in Alabama.” Sometimes ironic, sometimes bitter, always powerful, the poems in The Panther and the Lash are the last testament of a great American writer who grappled fearlessly and artfully with the most compelling issues of his time.
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1: Words on Fire
Did you know that you can look up any word in the text of the book or the text of the questions and answers? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Since it's so easy to look up words, make sure you use this feature frequently. Are there any words you need to look up on this page?
'Lies' can mean fabrications, but the word also is the opposite of
The use of 'The N-word' is highly controversial. Here is what Langston Hughes wrote about its use in his book "The Big Sea" (1940): "Used rightly or wrongly, ironically or seriously, of necessity for the sake of realism, or impishly for the sake of comedy, it doesn't matter. Negroes do not like it in any book or play whatsoever, be the book or play ever so sympathetic in its treatment of the basic problems of the race. Even though the book or play is written by a Negro, they still do not like it. The word nigger, you see, sums up for us who are colored all the bitter years of insult and struggle in America."
What does the speaker of this poem compare these African-American leaders and celebrities to?
Langston Hughes (1902-1967) is considered to be one of the most famous poets of the Harlem Renaissance, but he wrote poetry much longer than that period of time. Read this brief biography of the poet to learn more about his life and works. (This annotation contains a link)
When the speaker of the poem addresses Backlash, he is really addressing
How does the use of slang in this poem affect its tone? (This annotation contains a video)
What is the speaker's criticism of those who use drugs as an escape?
Can you identify the similes and metaphors in this poem? (This annotation contains a video)
The issue of race and police brutality/the use of excessive force is unfortunately still very much a societal issue today. Read this article and consider the factors of why this conflict continues. (This annotation contains a link)
Based on the first three lines, what would you say that this poem is about?
What does the speaker mean by repeating the phrase "Pushed into a corner"? What is his message to those who criticize the Black Panthers?
What do all of the people the speaker calls upon have in common?
2: American Heartbreak
In this poem, the speaker is not talking about himself personally, but his blackness. Race, specifically slavery, is the big sore or "the great mistake" made all those centuries ago.
How are these 'ghosts' 'haunting' those who historically oppressed them?
John Brown was a famous abolitionist who believed that insurrection (including arming freed and escaped slaves) was the only way to rid the country of slavery. He was executed in 1859 for his role in the attack on the Harpers Ferry armory. (This annotation contains an image)
This poem is most like a(n)
Douglass escaped from slavery when he was 20 years old, in 1838. Hughes's point here is that if he had not taken control of his own freedom he would have died in obscurity, and those who were inspired by him might have remained in captivity. (This annotation contains an image)
What does the speaker mean?
3: The Bible Belt
This is a poem of provocative metaphors. Do you think that Hughes intended to shock (and even offend) the reader? For what purpose?
This poem uses _______ imagery.
The clenched and raised fist is also a symbol of defiance and solidarity. American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos made this gesture at the 1968 Olympics to show their solidarity with the Black Power movement. (This annotation contains an image)
What is the tone of the ending of the poem?
'Swanee River' was a common song used in minstrel shows, usually performed by white actors in black face. Watch the first one minute of this video clip of Al Jolson singing this song (in black face), and consider why this form of entertainment is exploitative and offensive. (This annotation contains a video)
The opening refrain of this poem identify it as a(n)
This is a very loaded term in this context. Calling the speaker "Boy" is meant to belittle him and put him in an inferior position. The connotation here is that the speaker is subordinate and is to be treated as a child who has no agency or intellect.
What is the theme of the poem "Justice"?
The four girls killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing on September 15, 1963 were (clockwise from top left) Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Carol Denise McNair. Three members of the KKK were convicted of this hate crime (but not until 1977), and an alleged fourth perpetrator was never convicted. (This annotation contains an image)
What does "sends" mean in this context?
What does the hill represent?
4: The Face of War
Hughes is famous for writing about the African American experience, but "Mother in Wartime" transcends race and even time. This poem could be written about any mother who sends her child to war. (This annotation contains an image)
What do "Mother in Wartime," "Without Benefit of Declaration," and "Official Notice" have in common?
This poem is a criticism of Western foreign policy dating back to the period of colonialism. Who or what do you think is the "He" in this scenario?
What do doves traditionally represent?
War, and specifically death, is an equalizer.
5: African Question Mark
The highlighted section illustrates oppression through
The Mau Mau uprising was a military conflict in British colonial Kenya between 1952 and 1960. The Mau Mau (Kikuyu people) were eventually defeated, but a rift between colonial forces continued, as well as a rift within the Kikuyu communities. Colonialism forced some indigenous peoples to fight for their colonizers against their own communities. (Pictured: Kings African Rifles troops patrolling for Mau Mau rebels) (This annotation contains an image)
The words repeated throughout the poem contribute to a tone of
How would you describe the cultural point of view of the poem "Color"? (This annotation contains a video)
What is the underlying theme of "Question and Answer"?
6: Dinner Guest: Me
This poem highlights the issue of tokenism, as well as the problem of assuming one member of a group or race is representative of the whole.
That the "Northern liberals" are licking their chops at the actions of "Southern dogs" is
Do you think that the speaker is overcritical of those who only support the struggle financially?
What does this imagery suggest?
The House Committee on Un-American Activities was prolific in its accusations against alleged Communists in the 1950s. Hughes was called before the committee to explain a perceived pro-Soviet content of his poetry, short stories, and plays. (This annotation contains an image)
This poem includes the repetition of a
The Cultural Revolution in China began in 1966, one year before the publication of this collection of poems. The march on Selma was in 1965. What does this mean for the "country club set"? (This annotation contains an image)
What does the italicized text illustrate?
Some neighborhoods had restrictive covenants that did not permit African Americans to buy houses, but most of those covenants began to be struck down by courts in the 1950s. The subsequent migration of whites in the mid-twentieth century from cities to suburban and exurban areas is called White Flight. (This annotation contains an image)
All of the following poetic devices are used in the first 15 lines of this poem EXCEPT
The speaker is probably referring to Leontyne Price, a famous African American opera singer. (This annotation contains an image)
What is the speaker envisioning here?
What is the meaning of this extended metaphor? How is freedom like frosting? (This annotation contains an image)
What is the underlying tone of "Impasse"?
7: Daybreak in Alabama
Many critics describe Hughes's writing style as simple and straightforward, and therefore more easily understood by readers. Do you agree with that assessment?
What does the speaker question about his situation?
In this poem it is a child, still innocent, who is able to point out the ludicrous nature of laws that regulate racism (such as Jim Crow Laws).
How would you describe the speaker of "Stokely Malcolm Me"?
The tone of this poem is accusatory. Hughes is most likely referring to violence committed against African Americans by hate groups like the KKK.
What does the color red signify here?
What is the purpose of invoking the image of cotton fields? How is this a warning?
What does the word "Daybreak" imply?