Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes is considered by many readers to be the most significant black poet of the twentieth century. Except for a few examples, all his poems are about social injustice in America. The somber tone of his writing often reflected his mood. Race relations were present in almost his whole career, following him from his first poem to his last.

The poem “Doorknobs” was written in 1961 after his subpoena to appear before Senator McCarthy for subversive activities. Although many other poems by Hughes deal with prejudice, race, or politics, “Doorknobs” deals with life itself. Hughes’ anger over the political attacks are seen on many of his poems. Hughes’ “Doorknob” describes a child who seems to be afraid of life and afraid of the adults in his life… By the end of the poem this child is now an adult himself who appears to be insecure, and perhaps, afraid of life itself.
This man portrays a sad, non-confident, scared life as we can see on the lines 1 to 3. We experience first hand the lack of control, the terrorizing feelings this door holds for this child:
The simple silly terror of a doorknob
on a door that turns to let in life
From lines 4 to 10, we can assume that we are reading of a child who is terrorized of the grownups that live with him; perhaps he is an abused child:
on two feet standing,
walking, talking,
wearing dress or trousers,
maybe drunk or maybe sober,
maybe smiling, laughing, happy,
maybe tangled in the terror
of a yesterday past grandpa
Lines 11 to 15 reinforce the terror this child is feeling and carrying with him. It is apparent that the child is experiencing some kind of abuse, either mental or physical:
when the door from out there opened
into here where I, antenna,
recipient of your coming,
received the talking image
of the simple silly terror
From lines 16-25 Hughes repeats the first stanza of the poem with minor changes to the order of t the words; this perhaps is now when the child is now remembering his past. Another interpretation is that when the child became a grownup instead of being afraid of the adults in his life, he is afraid now of life itself, and death.

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of a door that opens
at the turning of a knob
to let in life
walking, talking, standing
wearing dress or trousers,
drunk or maybe sober,
smiling, laughing, happy,
or tangled in the terror
of a yesterday past grandpa
not of our own doing.

“Doorknobs” is a sad poem; the poem deals with the struggle and search for identity, and a struggle of the individual vs. the Universe. The mood is fear, and perhaps terror of his surroundings. At the end, we are left with the feeling that the child went on living his life in terror and afraid of everything that surrounded him even after becoming an adult.

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