The Hate U Give

Themes and Colors
Racism and Police Brutality  Theme Icon
Dueling Identities and Double Consciousness  Theme Icon
The Power of Language Theme Icon
Community and Loyalty Theme Icon
The Cycle of Poverty and Crime Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Hate U Give, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
The Power of Language Theme Icon

From the lyrics of hip-hop to the teachings of the Black Panthers, language in The Hate U Give is a tool for education, justice, and speaking truth to power. Starr is initially hesitant to speak out about what she witnessed, fearing retaliation against her family and worrying that she is not worthy of speaking up for Khalil. Throughout the novel, however, she comes to understand her voice as the most powerful tool she possesses. Kenya calls Starr a coward for “staying quiet,” reiterating that the best thing Starr can do for Khalil is speak on his behalf. Similarly, activist April Ofrah repeatedly tells Starr that her voice is her strongest “weapon” in the fight for justice for Khalil. Towards the end of the novel, while standing atop a police car during the riots, Starr observes that her “bullhorn is as heavy as a gun. Ironic since Ms. Ofrah said to use my weapon.” The crowd shouts encouragement for her to “speak,” echoing the power that her voice has in that moment.

Thomas further suggests that if language is a form of power, then silence is a means of control. When Maverick gives Starr “the talk,” he insists that she “only speak when” police ask her to, a point that feels especially pertinent to Starr given that her father “has the biggest mouth of anybody I know.” Thomas also repeatedly mentions the stigma associated with snitching on other members of the Garden Heights community. Ratting someone out is considered the ultimate betrayal, a fact that King—the biggest drug dealer and gang leader in Garden Heights—uses to his advantage, terrifying much of the neighborhood into silent submission. When Garden Heights residents confirm to police that King set fire to Maverick’s store, it is thus an act of rebellion. Similarly, when DeVante agrees to turn witness against King, he is using his voice to better his community: “And that lady said our voices are weapons,” he says. “I should use mine, right?” Thomas is suggesting that fear breeds silence, and that silence is a tool of oppression. The way to fight back, it follows, is to speak up.

The power of language also manifests in the novel’s frequent use of rap lyrics as a source of education and catharsis. For example, Chris raps the theme song to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air to earn Starr’s forgiveness at prom. More importantly, hip hop is a tool to inspire and incite, as can be seen when people join in rapping NWA’s “Fuck tha Police” during the riots in Garden Heights.

Cementing hip hop’s importance to Starr’s world is the fact that the novel’s title is taken directly from Tupac Shakur’s explanation of the phrase “Thug Life.” Khalil explains Tupac’s definition of Thug Life to Starr shortly before he is killed, but Starr does not fully comprehend its meaning until the end of the novel. One of the most famous hip hop artists of all time, Shakur frequently rapped about the racism and violence facing black inner cities. By using his words to frame the novel, Thomas asserts the power of hip hop to encapsulate the black experience. Together with Thomas’ emphasis on speaking truth to power, language thus becomes the ultimate means to spur meaningful societal change.

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The Power of Language ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of The Power of Language appears in each Chapter of The Hate U Give. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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The Power of Language Quotes in The Hate U Give

Below you will find the important quotes in The Hate U Give related to the theme of The Power of Language.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Listen! The Hate U-the letter U-Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody. T-H-U-G L-I-F-E. Meaning what society give us as youth, it bites them in the ass when we wild out. Get it?

Related Characters: Khalil Harris (speaker), Starr Carter
Page Number: 17
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Chapter 2  Quotes

The other talk was about what to do if a cop stopped me. … “Starr-Starr, you do whatever they tell you to do," he said. "Keep your hands visible. Don't make any sudden moves. Only speak when they speak to you."

I knew it must've been serious. Daddy has the biggest mouth of anybody I know, and if he said to be quiet, I needed to be quiet.

Related Characters: Starr Carter (speaker), Maverick Carter (speaker)
Page Number: 20
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Chapter 5 Quotes

Williamson Starr doesn't use slang—if a rapper would say it, she doesn't say it, even if her white friends do. Slang makes them cool. Slang makes her “hood.” Williamson Starr holds her tongue when people piss her off so nobody will think she's the “angry black girl.” Williamson Starr is approachable. No stank-eyes, side-eyes, none of that. Williamson Starr is nonconfrontational. Basically, Williamson Starr doesn't give anyone a reason to call her ghetto.

Related Characters: Starr Carter (speaker)
Page Number: 71
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Chapter 6 Quotes

My voice is changing already. It always happens around “other” people, whether I'm at Williamson or not. I don't talk like me or sound like me. I choose every word carefully and make sure I pronounce them well. I can never, ever let anyone think I'm ghetto.

Related Characters: Starr Carter (speaker), Detective Gomez, Detective Wilkes
Page Number: 95
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Chapter 7 Quotes

“Hustle! Pretend the ball is some fried chicken. Bet you'll stay on it then.”

Related Characters: Hailey Grant (speaker), Starr Carter
Page Number: 111
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The drug dealer. That's how they see him. It doesn't matter that he's suspected of doing it. “Drug dealer” is louder than “suspected” ever will be.

If it's revealed that I was in the car, what will that make me? The thug ghetto girl with the drug dealer? What will my teachers think about me? My friends? The whole fucking world, possibly?

Related Characters: Starr Carter (speaker), Khalil Harris, Hailey Grant, Maya Yang
Page Number: 113
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Chapter 12 Quotes

[Tupac] explains Thug Life like Khalil said he did. The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody. ‘Pac spells out “Fucks” because that kid is looking dead in his face. When Khalil told me what it meant I kinda understood it. I really understand it now.

Related Characters: Starr Carter (speaker), Khalil Harris
Page Number: 205
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“I've tried to forget it, but I remember everything. The shots, the look on Natasha's face. They never caught the person who did it. I guess it didn't matter enough. But it did matter. She mattered.” I look at Ms. Ofrah, but I can barely see her for all the tears. “And I want everyone to know that Khalil mattered too.”

Related Characters: Starr Carter (speaker), Khalil Harris, Natasha, April Ofrah
Page Number: 219
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Chapter 14 Quotes

That's the problem. We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us. What’s the point of having a voice if you're gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn't be?

Related Characters: Starr Carter (speaker), Hailey Grant, Maya Yang
Page Number: 252
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Chapter 16 Quotes

Ms. Ofrah says this interview is the way I fight. When you fight, you put yourself out there, not caring who you hurt or if you'll get hurt.

So I throw one more blow, right at One-Fifteen.

“I’d ask him if he wished he shot me too.”

Page Number: 290
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Chapter 17 Quotes

Being two different people is so exhausting. I've taught myself to speak with two different voices and only say certain things around certain people. I've mastered it. As much as I say I don't have to choose which Starr I am with Chris, maybe without realizing it, I have to an extent. Part of me feels like I can't exist around people like him.

Related Characters: Starr Carter (speaker), Chris
Page Number: 301
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Chapter 19 Quotes

“Brave doesn't mean you're not scared, Starr," she says. "It means you go on even though you're scared. And you're doing that."

Related Characters: Lisa Carter (speaker), Starr Carter
Page Number: 331
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Chapter 23 Quotes

“Anyway, Chris,” Seven says, “DeVante's got a point. What makes his name or our names any less normal than yours? Who or what defines 'normal' to you? If my pops were here, he'd say you've fallen into the trap of the white standard.”

Related Characters: Seven (speaker), Chris, DeVante
Page Number: 401
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Chapter 24 Quotes

The bullhorn is as heavy as a gun. Ironic since Ms. Ofrah said to use my weapon.

Related Characters: Starr Carter (speaker), April Ofrah
Page Number: 411
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Chapter 26 Quotes

He said Thug Life stood for “The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody.” We did all that stuff last night because we were pissed, and it fucked all of us. Now we have to somehow un-fuck everybody.

Related Characters: Starr Carter (speaker)
Page Number: 432
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It would be easy to quit if it was just about me, Khalil, that night, and that cop. It's about way more than that though. It's about Seven. Sekani. Kenya. DeVante.

It's also about Oscar.

Aiyana.

Trayvon.

Rekia.

Michael.

Eric.

Tamir.

John.

Ezell.

Sandra.

Freddie.

Alton.

Philando.

It's even about that little boy in 1955 who nobody recognized at first—Emmett.

Related Characters: Starr Carter (speaker)
Page Number: 443
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