Friday, January 10, 2020

ENGLISH - Poem - BALLAD OF THE LANDLORD



BALLAD OF THE LANDLORD
By Langston Hughes

About the Author
James Mercer Langston Hughes (February 1, 1902 – May 22, 1967) was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist from Joplin, Missouri. He moved to New York City as a young man, where he made his career. One of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form called jazz poetry, Hughes is best known as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance. He famously wrote about the period that "the negro was in vogue", which was later paraphrased as "when Harlem was in vogue."
Langston Hughes

BALLAD OF THE LANDLORD
By Langston Hughes

Landlord, Landlord
My roof has sprung a leak
Don’t you remember I told you about it
Way last week?

Landlord, Landlord
These steps is broken down
When you come up yourself
It’s a wonder you don’t fall down

Ten bucks you say I owe you?
Ten bucks you say is due?
Well, that’s ten bucks more n I’ll pay you
Till you fix this house up new.

What? You gonna get eviction order
You gonna cut-off my head?
You gonna take my furniture and
Throw it in the street?

Un-huh! You talking high and mighty
Talk on-till you get through
You ain’t gonna be able to say a word
If I land my fist on you.

Police! Police!
Come and get this man!
He’s trying to ruin the government
And overturn the land.

Copper’s whistle!
Patrol ball!
Arrest.
Princit station
Iron cell.

Headlines in press:
Man threatens landlord
Tenant held no bail
Judge gives Negro 90 days in county jail.


INTRODUCTION

This poem was written by Langston Hughes (1902-1967); a black American poet. He worked as a sailor and a cook before he devoted himself to literature. He was a leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance and besides writing poetry he also wrote novels, books for children, songs and newspaper columns. In this poem he specifically and categorically addresses the situation that a Negro tenant finds himself against a White landlord during the time of racial tension in America.


THEMATIC ANALYSIS

CONFLICT/PROTEST
The poem exposes the main conflict that existed in American society between the Americans of African origin against the White Americans. The reaction of both parties resulted into new conflicts without settling the previous ones. In the poem the Landlord is in conflict with his black tenant because of the house rent. The tenant agrees to pay on a condition that the house which has sprung a leak and the broken stairs should first be repaired. The landlord threatens to evict him from the house and the tenant threatens to beat the landlord.
You ain’t gonna be able to say a word
If I land my fist on you.
The conflict intensifies when the tenant is arrested and sent to jail without fair trial for threatening the Landlord.

RACISM/DISCRIMINATION
The poem shows the problems of racial prejudices and racial injustice. Blacks were treated as second class citizens in America. They were not given their basic human rights and they had to fight for their rights by every possible means. The poet shows how racial tension grew to a point of resulting to a serious quarrel between the tenant and the Landlord. The use of the word “Negro” which is an offensive word used to refer to Black Americans suggests that the blacks are abused in this society by their White counterparts. Blacks are sent to jail without bail, nor fail trial.
Tenant held no bail
Judge gives Negro 90 days in county jail.

CLASSES
The two parties in the poem represent two classes that are in most societies. The Landlord represents the rich class that owns the major means of production and uses their economic power to influence those who are politically powerful to safeguard their interests. The tenant on the other hand represents the poor class those who own nothing except their labour power. These are exploited by the rich class as it can be seen from the poem. The tenant lives in a very poor house that leaks and the steps are broken down but the landlord has reluctantly refused to repair it and at the end of the month he demands his house rent.
Landlord, Landlord
My roof has sprung a leak
Don’t you remember I told you about it
Way last week?


INJUSTICE/UNFAIR TRIAL
Furthermore through the poem the poet shows another problem that befell the Americans of African origin during the time of racial prejudice in America. Most Africans were accused falsely and sent to jail without fair trial. The events towards the end of the poem show a quick succession suggesting that events were rushed from the arrest to the imprisonment of the tenant, without giving him a chance to give his views on the matter in question. The police, the court and the press all seem to work in favour of the whites. This was completely unfair to Africans and unfortunately enough it is still true today. There are many people in jail today who are very innocent only that they crossed with economically and politically powerful people in the society who accuse them falsely as the tenant was.
Police! Police!
Come and get this man!
He’s trying to ruin the government
And overturn the land.
The tenant never tried to overthrow the government nor overturn the land.

POOR LIVING CONDITION
The house the tenant lives in is a perfect symbol of the kind of life the Black Americans were living in America. They had nothing to share in the American dream and when they demanded their rights they faced the powerful oppressive hand of the government and its organs like the police and the prison. The tenant lives in a house that “has sprung a leak” and the “steps is broken down”. He has reported the matter to the landlord but he has not done anything yet to fix it. The house itself seems to threaten the tenant’s life when he climbs the steps he is careful not to fall down. This is the reason he wonders that even the landlord may collapse climbing the steps:
Landlord, Landlord
These steps is broken down
When you come up yourself
It’s a wonder you don’t fall down

EXPLOTATION
The landlords have been long known to exploit the tenants from time immemorial, and in the turn of the 20th century and perhaps 21st century, things have not changed. The Landlord comes to demand the house rent from the tenant but he is not ready to provide the services due to the tenant. Most landlords use their investments as tools of exploitation and capital accumulation but they don’t care about the welfare of their customers (a tenant in this context). However, the tenant comes to awareness that he has the duty to pay the rent – which he is ready to pay – but he demands that the Landlord should also do his part before he demands for payment;
Ten bucks you say I owe you?
Ten bucks you say is due?
Well, that’s ten bucks more n I’ll pay you
Till you fix this house up new.



GUIDING QUESTIONS             

 i. What is the poem about?
The poem is about the conflict between the Landlord and a tenant that emanates chiefly from the fact that the Landlord demands his house rent but he is not read to repair the house. The resulting misunderstanding sends the tenant to jail without even a fair trial.            

ii. Who is the persona and how do you know?
The persona is a tenant. He addresses the landlord in whose house he lives.         

 iii. What is the tone and mood of the poem?
The tone is angry and harsh as the tenant threatens to beat the landlord. It creates an intense hatred and angry mood as the tenant was unfairly imprisoned without fair trial.           

iv. What is the type of the poem?
It is a narrative poem in form of a modern ballad presenting the dramatic conversation between the Landlord and his tenant.             

v. Comment on the language use.

§      The language used in this poem carries an extra meaning that it seems to suggest so it should not be taken at face value. The language itself is simple and easy to understand and it borrows its vocabulary from the Black American English to make the reader visualize who the persona is and the class he belongs before he mentions in the last line that the persona is a Negro.

§      The choice of slang words like “gonna”, “ain’t”, “bucks” – meaning dollar,  and the ungrammatical sentence “These steps is broken down” ignoring the agreement between the plural subject “These steps” and a singular verb “is” should come as no surprise because they suggest the kind of English used by the Black people of the lower class.

§      The word “Negro” is an offensive word used to refer to Africans in America. It symbolises the presence of racial prejudice in America as one newspaper reported “Judge gives Negro 90 days in county jail.”

§      He has also used the language of newspaper reporting (journalism). Three newspapers reported the incident in different fashions each one taking a different news angle;
Þ    Man threatens landlord.
Þ    Tenant held no bail.
Þ    Judge gives Negro 90 days in county jail.
The three headlines communicate a subtle message carried by the reporters reflecting their attitudes towards the tenant and the Landlord.
§      The first seems to justify the tenants arrest by stating that he threatened the landlord. This evokes feelings of hatred from the whites to blacks.
§      The second seems to sympathise with the tenant by reporting that the judgment was unfair since he was not given a chance to be released on bail.
§      The third one has racist attitude because he refers to the tenant as ‘Negro’ which to him seems to be fair.

He has also made use of the figures of speech and poetic devices to colour his poem.
§      Poetic license
He has used ungrammatical English to suggest the kind of English used by African American and underscore the class the persona belongs to. “These steps is broken down
§      Alliteration
Landlord! Landlord!
Police! Police!
§      Reiteration – he has made deliberate repetition of certain words for emphasis.
Þ    Landlord! Landlord!
Þ    Police! Police!
§      Rhyme
Largely the poem has irregular rhyming scheme with exception of stanza three whose verses seem to end with a regular rhyme. i.e. you/ due/ you/ new
§      Symbolism
Þ    The house; it is used to represent poor living condition of the lower class and exploitation by the high class.
Þ    The landlord; he represents the exploiters and oppressors from the higher class.
Þ    The tenant: he represents the lower class that is oppressed and exploited by the higher class.
Þ    Police precinct, iron cell and country jail: they represent the forms of injustice and oppression.
§      Rhetorical question
Ten bucks you say I owe you?
Ten bucks you say is due?
§      Onomatopoeia
Um-huh!
§      Anaphora
Ten bucks you say I owe you?
Ten bucks you say is due?

      ii.            Suggest the messages that we learn from the poem.
Þ    The landlords should care for the welfare of their tenants.
Þ    The police and prison should be used as organs of dispensing justice not suppressing it.
Þ    Racial prejudices should be discouraged at all costs.
Þ    We should discourage exploitation in our societies.

    iii.            Is the poem relevant to Tanzania today?
      The poem is very relevant to Tanzania today as there are many people in jail who are very innocent only because they crossed with moneyed people who accuse them falsely and they are sent to jail without or with unfair trial.

- Exploitation of the tenants by the landlords/landladies is also very common. Most of them keep on raising the house rents but they do not renovate the houses on regular basis.

- Social stratification (classes) of poor and rich, whites and Blacks can also be seen in our societies. So the poem is perfectly suitable for our audience readership.


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