The speaker's attitude toward his subject and the reader is the tone of the poem. This attitude is conveyed using particular words and writing style. As a result, the poem's diction, or word choice, evokes particular feelings in the reader or the audience. The tone of Langston Hughes’ poem “As I Grew Older” changes throughout, oscillating between hopefulness and hopelessness.
The tone or the speaker's attitude toward his subject and/or the reader creates a specific kind of atmosphere or mood in the reader’s mind. This atmosphere comes from the types of feelings that the tone evokes. For example, if a poem has an angry tone, it will evoke feelings of anger and discontent in the reader. As a result, the mood of the poem will be turbulence and disquiet.
Racial Inequality, the Background for “As I Grew Older”
Langston Hughes (1902–1967), the writer of the poem “As I Grew Older,” was an African-American poet involved in the civil rights movement. He lived when black people were heavily oppressed in America, and he believed that poetry and art could bring about racial equality. Hughes was involved in the Harlem Renaissance and was one of the first poets to promote African-American culture. “As I Grew Older” deals with the experience of growing up with racial inequality.
“As I Grew Older”
The poem is about the speaker's inability to achieve a childhood dream because of his society's racism and prejudices. He describes his experiences as a young man and his dream of being something great. The sun represents the speaker’s childhood dreams, and it is then contrasted with “the wall,” a representation of the reality that he faces in a prejudiced society. The wall casts the shadow, and the shadow represents the speaker’s skin color -- the reason why he is unable to achieve his dreams in a prejudiced and racially unequal society.
Tone of “As I Grew Older”
The tone of the poem changes throughout, indicating changes in the speaker's attitude. In the beginning, the speaker is hopeful. He says, “It was a long time ago./ I have almost forgotten my dream./ But it was there then,/ In front of me,/ Bright like a sun--/ My dream.” But this sense of hope dissipates when he faces the wall of prejudice: “Above me./ Only the thick wall./ Only the shadow.” In the end, the speaker's attitude returns to hope. He tells himself, “My hands!/ My dark hands!/ Break through the wall!/ Find my dream!” The speaker refuses to give up and give in. The final image of the poem is again of the sun, indicating a hopeful tone, which is reminiscent of the tone in the beginning of the poem.