Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes writes the poem “Ballad of the Landlord” in 1940, a time of immense discrimination against people of African descent. The poem details an account of a tenant, later found out to be an African American, who is dissatisfied with his rental property. The tenant is politely asking the landlord to make the needed repairs on the realty, but instead the landlord demands to be paid. The tenant refuses to pay the rent, and the police are called after a threat is made towards the landlord. The police arrest the tenant, and he is jailed for ninety days with no bail. Langston Hughes’s “Ballad of the Landlord” is a startling poem that underlines the poor living conditions and discrimination African Americans had to cope with in the nineteen-forties by illustrating an account of an African American tenant’s troubles with a Caucasian landlord through the use of simple words and many literary devices.
Obvious to most, the theme in “Ballad of the Landlord” is racism and discrimination. It is apparent that the tenant is discriminated against by the landlord, the police and the newspaper. The newspaper only shows one side especially in the headlines: “MAN THREATENS LANDLORD,” when the tenant had a justifiable reason for the threat (31). The theme is an important aspect to Hughes’s poem because it is the basis for the purpose and meaning of the poem.
The rhyme scheme in “Ballad of the Landlord” generally follows the simple-4 line rhyme scheme, in which the rhyme pattern is A B C B; this standard form also shows the simplicity of the main speaker, the tenant. The rhyming words are found at the end of the second and fourth lines in each stanza. This phenomena is found throughout the entire poem except for the following lines:
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. (9-12)
This rhyme scheme is not easily identified until a closer look is taken, but it is an important factor to help the word flow in Hughes’s poem. Internal rhyme is also found as Langston Hughes writes “You talking high and mighty” (17). The rhyming pattern in “Ballad of the Landlord” is the one of the only consistent factors in the poem and helps to keep a reader’s attention as they read the encounter.
Hughes uses assonance and alliteration throughout his poem as well as words that represent each speaker’s dialect. For instance, Hughes uses assonance when saying “Don’t you ‘member I told you about it”, which stresses on the “o” sound in “don’t” and “told” (3). The excerpt also shows the tenants use of dialect by leaving out part of the word remember. Other examples of dialect include the use of the word “ain’t” in line
21 and the repeated use of the word “gonna” in lines 14, 15 and 19. Further illustrations include the succinct sentences of the police: “Arrest. / Precinct Station,” which show the attitudes of the...