This dinner party seems to be a relatively commonplace occurrence for the African American speaker: "Being wined and dined, / Answering the usual questions / That come to white mind." He answers the usual questions from the white audience who seeks to understand "darkness U.S.A." The speaker himself is like a curiosity, a prophet, asked to speak on behalf of an entire race of people to help explain "how things got this way." The white people in attendance at this dinner seem well-meaning, at least for this one "democratic night," but the speaker understands that they think of him, or at least what do to with his blackness, as a "Problem."
At this dinner, with the well-meaning but nevertheless harm-causing white audience, the speaker, a person of color, becomes the "center of attention." However, he knows that all the talk is, ultimately, for nothing; these individuals seem to want to discuss the "Problem" of race-relations, but they do not seem to feel compelled to discuss any solutions. They, perhaps, feel they do enough to be "'ashamed'" of their whiteness, but they do nothing to actually make life better for persons of color. In the end, then, the poem's purpose seems to be to point out the way conversations about race so often go between whites and persons of color: whites profess guilt about their privilege but do nothing to actually dismantle the racism institutionalized in our government, schools, workplaces, and so on.
Hey! I hope this is an ok place to ask for this type of help.
I'm writing a short, three-page essay on "Dinner Guest: Me" by Langston Hughes. I've gone over and over the poem, but I can't seem to "interrogate my observations" (as my teacher puts it) enough to come up with a "synthetic statement", or argumentative thesis. I'm sure one i hit something, the writing will be easy, but I can't seem to make a break though! :( I was hoping I could get some suggestions or inspiration!
I know I am
The Negro Problem
Being wined and dined
Answering the usual questions
That come to white mind
Which seeks demurely
To probe in polite way
The why and wherewithal
Of darkness U.S.A-
Wondering how things got this wayin current democratic night,
Over fraises du bois,
"I'm so ashamed of being white."
The lobster is delicious
The wine divine,
And the center of attention
At the damask table, mine.
To be a Problem on
Park Avenue at eight
Is not so bad.
Solutions to the Problem,
Of course, wait.
I have taken some notes, and defined the terms that i wasn't sure about
+"wined and dined" - entertain lavishly, 'they wined and dined us in order to get us to sign the contract'
+"demurely" - shyness, modestly, reserved
+"wherewithal" - means by which to do something, 'wherewithal to pay my rent'
+"democratic night" - democratic is roughly social equality, while the definition of "night" that i think fits this most would be "a condition of obscurity, misfortune, ignorance, sinfullness..." So, a condition os ignorance regarding social equality?
+"damask" - elaborate
+"Park Avenue" - luxurious residential area, high society
the whites may be wine and dine-ing him as a form of reparation, "compensation given to one who has suffered at the hands of another"
"I know i am the negro problem"... speaking for all blacks? allegory
"Fraises do bois" - french for wild strawberries, but might be a nod towards William Edward Burghurdt Du Bois, a black civil rights activist
"the lobster delicious, the wine divine, and the center of attention as the damask table, mine" lobster to wine to hughes, he may be pushed in with the food as part of the "attractions" at the dinner party, not like an actual guest
"to be a problem on park avenue at eight is not so bad. solutions to the problem, of course, can wait" I cant decide if this is more white mentality or the guests. He may be thinking its not so bad right NOW, "at eight", because hes getting delicious food out of it, and that we dont NEED solutions because the negro problem really isnt a problem. Or it might be whites thinking that its not so bad to be a black man, see we treat him nice and give him things, and we dont actually want to find a solution to the negro problem.
it might help if i had a better idea what "the Negro Problem" was. I'm not too sure. :(
I hope someone can help me! I'm totally at a loss and its due tomorrow, haha.
The "Negro problem" can be viewed as the problems faced by African-Americans as they attempted to fully integrate and participate in American (white) society. I think your observations are right on target. I might to lean toward "solutions to the problem, of course, can wait" referring to the attitudes of whites, who perhaps assuage their guilt by inviting a guest such as the author to dinner, rather than coming up with a way to allow African-Americans to participate equally in society.
Best of luck in your studies!