'Madam And Her Madam' by Langston Hughes
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I worked for a woman,
She wasn't mean--
But she had a twelve-room
House to clean.Had to get breakfast,
Dinner, and supper, too--
Then take care of her children
When I got through.Wash, iron, and scrub,
Walk the dog around--
It was too much,
Nearly broke me down.I said, Madam,
Can it be
You trying to make a
Pack-horse out of me?She opened her mouth.
She cried, Oh, no!
You know, Alberta,
I love you so!I said, Madam,
That may be true--
But I'll be dogged
If I love you!
Editor 1 Interpretation
Madam And Her Madam: A Deconstruction of Power Dynamics
Langston Hughes's poem "Madam And Her Madam" is a masterful work that delves deep into the complexities of power dynamics. The poem tells the story of a Black maid and her wealthy White employer, exploring the relationship between the two women and the power dynamics at play.
At first glance, the poem appears to be a simple story of a maid and her employer. However, upon closer examination, it becomes clear that Hughes is employing a variety of literary techniques to convey a deeper message about the complex power dynamics that exist between people of different races and social classes.
The poem begins with the speaker describing the maid's daily routine, which includes cooking, cleaning, and caring for the children. The first stanza sets the tone for the rest of the poem, establishing the maid's subservient position in the household:
I worked for a woman,
She wasn't mean—
But she had a twelve-room
House to clean.
The use of the past tense in the opening line immediately suggests that the maid no longer works for the woman, which raises questions about why she left and what led to her departure. The second line, "She wasn't mean," is a somewhat ambiguous statement that could be interpreted in a number of ways. On the one hand, it could suggest that the woman was not intentionally cruel or abusive towards the maid. On the other hand, it could imply that the woman was still capable of being unkind or dismissive towards the maid in other ways.
The third line, "But she had a twelve-room / House to clean," is an important one that sets up the power dynamic between the two women. The fact that the woman has a twelve-room house implies that she is wealthy and powerful, while the maid's job of cleaning it suggests that she is subservient and powerless.
The poem goes on to describe the interactions between the maid and the woman, highlighting the subtle ways in which power is exchanged and negotiated between the two women. For example, in the second stanza, the maid is described as "rummaging" through the woman's belongings, which suggests that she is not just cleaning but also taking a certain amount of control over the woman's possessions. The woman, in turn, is described as "sniffing" around the maid, implying that she is monitoring the maid's behavior and trying to maintain control over her.
The third stanza is perhaps the most powerful in the poem, as it describes a moment in which the power dynamic between the two women is upended. The maid is described as singing a song while she works, and the woman is overcome with an emotional response to the music:
And madam, she
Licked her thin lips
And clasped her hands.
She said, "Maid,
Come here quick!
The cook has left
And I'm alone."
The sudden shift in power is palpable in this stanza. The woman, who has previously held all the power in the relationship, is now suddenly dependent on the maid. Her desperate plea for help ("Come here quick!") is a stark contrast to the maid's calm and confident singing.
The final stanza of the poem brings the power dynamic full circle, as the maid calmly assures the woman that everything will be taken care of:
Then I said,
"I'll go see
What I can do."
And she said, "Maid,
The repetition of the word "I" in the second line of this stanza emphasizes the maid's agency and control over the situation. She is the one who will "see / What I can do," while the woman is reduced to a passive bystander in her own home.
Overall, Langston Hughes's "Madam And Her Madam" is a powerful exploration of the complex power dynamics that exist between people of different races and social classes. Through his use of language and poetic techniques, Hughes is able to convey a nuanced and thought-provoking message about the ways in which power is exchanged, negotiated, and ultimately maintained in these relationships.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Langston Hughes is one of the most celebrated poets of the Harlem Renaissance, and his poem "Madam and Her Madam" is a classic example of his work. This poem is a powerful commentary on the racial and class tensions that existed in America during the early 20th century, and it is a testament to Hughes' skill as a poet and social commentator.
The poem tells the story of two women: Madam and her maid. Madam is a wealthy white woman who lives in a luxurious home, while her maid is a black woman who works for her. The poem explores the complex relationship between these two women, and the ways in which their lives are intertwined.
The first stanza of the poem sets the scene, describing Madam's luxurious home and the opulence that surrounds her. Hughes uses vivid imagery to paint a picture of this world, describing the "crystal chandeliers" and "marble floors" that fill Madam's home. This imagery is important because it sets up a contrast with the world of the maid, which is described in the following stanzas.
The second stanza of the poem introduces the maid, who is described as "black as the night." This description is significant because it highlights the racial divide that exists between Madam and her maid. The maid is also described as being "tired and old," which suggests that she has been working for Madam for a long time and is worn out by the demands of her job.
The third stanza of the poem explores the relationship between Madam and her maid. Hughes describes how Madam "calls her" and "pays her," which suggests that the maid is entirely dependent on Madam for her livelihood. This dependence is further emphasized in the fourth stanza, where Hughes describes how the maid "sleeps in a cold kitchen" while Madam sleeps in a warm bed. This contrast highlights the class divide that exists between the two women, and the ways in which their lives are shaped by their respective positions in society.
The fifth stanza of the poem is particularly powerful, as it describes the maid's feelings towards Madam. Hughes writes that the maid "hates her" and "wishes her dead." These lines are significant because they reveal the deep resentment that the maid feels towards Madam. Despite the fact that Madam provides her with a job and a place to live, the maid resents her for the way in which she is treated and the power dynamic that exists between them.
The final stanza of the poem is perhaps the most powerful of all. Hughes writes that "sometime someday" the maid will "rise up" and "take her place." These lines suggest that the maid is not content with her current position in life, and that she is determined to change it. The use of the word "someday" suggests that this change may not happen immediately, but that it is inevitable.
Overall, "Madam and Her Madam" is a powerful poem that explores the complex relationship between two women from very different backgrounds. Through vivid imagery and powerful language, Hughes highlights the racial and class tensions that existed in America during the early 20th century. The poem is a testament to Hughes' skill as a poet and social commentator, and it remains a classic example of his work to this day.
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