Striking contrasts and raw imagery of the suffering class of the American society is what makes Langston Hughes’ poem ‘Let America Be America Again’ an angry and resentful account of what people went through. Being an activist himself, Hughes’ play of words in the poem puts forth the horrifying truth and upstanding hope with an invoking confidence. This article talks in short about ‘Let America Be America Again’, its analysis and summary.
Democratic senator John Kerry used the title of this poem as his Presidential campaign slogan in 2004. He was running against George W. Bush for President.
Let America Be America Again is a poem by Langston Hughes. Written in 1935, it was published in the July 1936 issue of Esquire Magazine. The poem is an account of the American Dream, that, according to Hughes, never occurred. It also delves into issues of equality and freedom. The poem not only focuses on African-Americans and their struggles, but also the economically disadvantaged and immigrants who suffer from social bias and unfair treatment.
The poem touches various issues and events that were prominent at the time. It reaches out to various sectors in the American society, and talks about their condition in their circumstances. Hughes, through this poem, yearns for the America it once was. The one that exists only in dreams. A short summary with a brief analysis of the poem has being presented in the following paragraphs.
He then talks about the land being a ‘Land of Liberty’, in its true sense; where the concept of liberty is not dressed and disguised under patriotism. Yet, these things, he says, have never come across to him.
A different voice (who has not being specified) comes in and expresses wonderment over who the actual narrator is, and questions his mumbling.
In response to this, the original narrator says that he is the poor white man, the ‘Negro’ who bears the scars of slavery, the ‘Indian’ who has been driven away from his land, the ‘Immigrant’ who has held on to a hope that the weak shall someday rise above the powerful. Yet, all he finds is the same old approach of ‘dog eat dog’ and of the ‘mighty crushing the weak’.
He goes on further to add that he is a young man full of hope, who is stuck in the ancient structure where profit making and power through monetary gains is the only thing that matters. He says he is a farmer, a worker, a Negro. He is the people, who, despite their struggles, are hopeful.’
The narrator claims that he dreamed of a free land, while still under the oppressive king of the ‘Old World’. The dream was so strong and felt so true that it has driven him and other people to build it brick by brick. He says that he and his people have left the dark lands of Ireland, Poland, and England; they were torn away from their land in Africa. So, they built this ‘homeland of the free’ themselves.
With a pause, the narrator again questions: ‘The free? He remembers again, stating that he could have said ‘free’. Not in a land where millions on relief have been shot down, millions who can barely survive and meet their basic needs. All these people, who have nothing left but the ‘dream that is almost dead today’. He cries out to all those who sweat and blood, their faith and pain into making America. He appeals to them to build the America they dream of.
He isn’t resentful about being called ugly names, as he demands freedom from the ‘leeches’ that live on people’s lives, and appeals that we take our land back. He says out loud, that even if America was never of his dreams, he is determined to make it so. He declares that America should be risen out of the death, rape, and lies. The country needs to redeem its rivers, lands, mines, and all natural beauty. Only then will America be America again.
The poem begins with Hughes’ appeal of letting America be the America it once was. Yet, he points out that this image of America has always been nonexistent. America has been a place of slavery, poverty, oppression, and lies. The tone of the lines depicting these truths is that of anger, followed by hopefulness. This structure suggests his holding on to hope, and his dreams of getting to see America the way he always wanted to.
The poem has been narrated in first person, with a dialog form breaking in the middle. This part questions the authority that is voicing all these concerns over America and its issues. As an answer, his narration gets more dramatic in its telling. The people being talked about are specific, and the issues raised are acute.
Various literary devices have been employed in the poem in different stanzas. Rhyme is used in lines 2 and 4 with words ‘be’ and ‘free’; in lines 6 and 8 with words ‘dreamed’ and ‘schemed’; so on and so forth. Strong metaphors, like in the line ‘I am the worker sold to the machine’, produces a strong effect and imagery of the struggles the worker undergoes.
The most powerful and hopeful proclamation comes towards the end of the poem, where the narrator cries to all sufferers and asks them to rise up against the current circumstances, and strive to build the America of their dreams. He believes that America can be improved, ending the poem on a high and optimistic note.
Langston Hughes is known to be one of the earliest poets in ‘jazz poetry’. The rhythmic quality and the impression it leaves upon the reader is pretty evident from this poem. Though it consists of and talks about the suffering lower class in general, it does put forth a raw picture of the African-American society at the time very prominently, and since has been considered an important and influential piece in American literature.