Ballard of the Landlord
by Langston Hughes
Questions and Answers for the Poem included in the CHSE +2 Alternative English book ‘Approaches to English – II’.
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A word about the author
Langston Hughes (James Mercer Langston Hughes) (1901 -1967) was an African American writer who railed against the pervasive discrimination against fellow citizens of his colour. In the years he lived, America experienced tumultuous changes in racial relations. With great churning of conscience, the Whites began to give equal status to their black brethren. This short poem portrays the intolerance and arrogance of a white landlord against his black tenant. The latter is sent to jail for the flimsiest of the reasons. The police and the judiciary were arrayed against the black people in the most reprehensible way.
Questions for discussion
1. What are the tenant’s complaints to the landlord?
Answer – The black tenant complains about the leaking roof, and the rickety steps. Both need immediate repairs.
2. “The steps is broken down”. Is the sentence grammatically correct? If not, why has the poet used it?
Answer – Grammatically, ‘are’ is required to be inserted for ‘is’. The author has knowingly inserted this error to symbolize the poor education of his black community members. This blights their English.
3. “Well, that’s ten bucks more’n I’ll pay you. Till you fix this house up new.” Explain these lines.
Answer – It means that the tenant is unwilling to clear the rent arrears if the repairs are not done.
4. Does the tenant actually beat the landlord? How do you know?
The tenant has not unleashed any sort of physical violence against the landlord.
5. “He is trying to ruin the government and overturn the land”. Who speaks these words? And to what effect?
Answer – This is the allegation of the white landlord. Quite predictably, the police take the black tenant to custody for breaking the law, threatening the government, and create all round confusion. The police don’t bother even to do any verification or questioning.
6. Do you think the tenant committed an unbailable offence? Explain.
The tenant just made a legitimate request for repair of the house. He did nothing to warrant such a heavy-handed and one-sided reaction from the police.
7. What is the attitude of the poet towards the legal system and social justice of the land? Is it justifiable in the context of the poem?
Answer – The author mocks the law and order apparatus of the state for being so overly racist and unjust. He describes how the black people are always in the receiving end when it comes to their interaction with the whites.
8. Why is the last stanza printed in capital letters?
Answer – These are the screaming headlines of the local newspaper. It shows how the black citizens are generally perceived to be lawless, violent, and unruly.
9. In this poem, the author uses some words that are plain or ungrammatical or clipped or telegraphic. Can you identify them?
Answer – ‘member’, Way last week, steps is broken, Well, that’s Ten Bucks more’n I’ll pay you, gonna,
10. Who do you sympathise – the landlord or the tenant? And why?
Answer – Obviously, I will sympathize with the black tenant. He is wronged. He feels the iron fist of law for no fault of his. Most tragically, he is not given a fair chance to defend himself