MINSTREL MAN – by Langston Hughes

Because my mouth
Is wide with laughter
And my throat
Is deep with song,
You do not think
I suffer after
I have held my pain
So long?

Because my mouth
Is wide with laughter,
You do not hear
My inner cry?
Because my feet
Are gay with dancing,
You do not know
I die?

The overall subject of this poem is the stereotype of the minstrel slave (a black person forced to perform some kind of entertainment), or just the stereotypical black man, a dumb person who doesn’t know very much about the world and has no interests in anything; men happy to live their simple, painful, restricted lives, satisfied with working on a plantation all day long in total obedience to their ‘master’.

The stereotype of the minstrel character, “wide with laughter… gay with dancing… deep with song”, underlines racist expectations of blacks during slavery, how white people view blacks and how they expect them to behave.
But the act of the minstrel man is grotesque and filled with suppressed emotion, he has to wear a mask of joy, happiness and stupidity just to please white people, but, inside, they are dying of sorrow and rage.
The contrasts between these two extreme emotions, happiness from dancing and singing and the desolation of death is striking.




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