Dunbar’s “Sympathy” And Hughes’s “I, Too” Poems

Captivity, specifically African Americans being trapped by society through racism, prejudice, and unfair laws, are an important theme in American poetry. Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “Sympathy” and Langston Hughes’s “I, Too” are both dedicated to these social issues. However, in my opinion, Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “Sympathy” is more hopeful than the other.

The message of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “Sympathy” is about liberation from slavery, which will happen soon. A slave is compared to a bird with all the prerequisites for escape and preparing to make it soon. Therefore, the hero of the poem “sings like a bird” in anticipation of the end of captivity. The message of Langston Hughes’s “I, Too” is darker: it conveys the difficulty of overcoming slavery. The world of privileged whites and minorities contrasts a dark kitchen and a whole house, which a slave has no right to enter. This metaphor shows that the division between members of society does not have a physical embodiment in the form of doors or cage bars but is deeply rooted in the minds of American citizens.

Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “Sympathy” is a song of joy. Unlike “I, Too”, the message of this poem is hope. Just as a bird sings in captivity, knowing that the long-awaited freedom will someday come, people who are in a cage of social prejudices should rejoice every day and appreciate life. Langston Hughes’s poem “I, Too” is not so hopeful since in it, captivity is not represented in the form of a cage that can open. In this work, racism is compared to a dark kitchen, the doors are already open, but it is not possible to get out of it. Thus, although the authors raise the same social problem, they have different points of view regarding its resolution.