“Let America be America Again”


An analysis of the poem, “Let America be America Again,” by Langston Hughes – http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15609

At first glance, the title of this poem would seem to suggest that this poem is a pro-American poem. The poem begins:

“Let America be America again. Let it be the dream it used to be. Let it be the pioneer on the plain Seeking a home where he himself is free.”

The only thing at the beginning that hints to where this poem may be gong is the fact that Hughes used “again” and “used to be”, signifying that America isn’t really America anymore. Upon further reading, an undertone begins to emerge. The next line of the poem is in parenthesis and seems to have a very different tone.

(America never was America to me.)
Hughes cleverly goes on bouncing back and forth between the two very opposite points off view until it has been clearly established that what started to look like encouragement for the American ways in the beginning, was actually sarcasm. Hughes creatively uses the text to communicate the idea that these were different points of view or perhaps even different people speaking. The regular text lines are one point of view and/or group of people. The words in parenthesis are a second point of view and/or group of people. The italicized text is a third point of view and/or group of people. When focused on in this way the poem begins to tell an even deeper story of America and its people. The poem is presented in a certain way and starts to build a kind of flow. The flow begins to change about halfway through the poem and another view of America begins to emerge. Originally, the first point of view appears to be society and what everyone says out in the open. It speaks of America and the freedom it brings or at least the freedom that it used to strive for. It represents the ideas that America was born from and portrays the freedom that was supposed to be what America is all about. The second point of view, in parenthesis, appears to be what the underprivileged really feel and perhaps what they say behind closed doors to their peers. After some back and forth between the first point of view and the second point of view, the third point of view, in italics,  comes in for the first time.
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
This questioning opens the door for the false freedom to be exposed and the once quiet opinions of the minorities begin to grow louder. The mumbles point to the views that aren’t heard because the minorities and the poor are not listened to. These mumbles, and therefore these points of view, are in the dark, just as these people have been left in the dark. The veil being drawn across the stars could be another metaphor for the underprivileged being in the dark. The veil could also be a metaphor for a barrier between the lower class and the stars, which can represent glory, fame and even wishes. The lower class are prevented from having their wishes fulfilled and from ever having their own glory and fame. At this point in time the regular text that seemed to express the open societal views of America changes and the hidden societal views of America emerge. The regular text at first seemed to represent the views that the white and wealthy Americans would have about their country. These were the views that were allowed and encouraged to be expressed. For most of the second half of the poem, the regular text represents the views that the minorities and the poorer Americans have about their country. These were the views that were only  talked about behind closed doors, and the views that were seldom allowed to be expressed in public. This point of view now shows how the underprivileged have been used and abused.  It expressed how America was built with their blood, sweat and tears, all in the name of freedom, yet they still are not free. The poem goes on to point to all of the injustices that the American people have endured. The poem gets more intense as it goes along, almost as if the once quite mumbles of the minorities has now grown into a movement that has become empowered and decided to take a stand. The last few lines of the poem remind us of the constitution of the united states by starting with “we the people.”
“We, the people, must redeem The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers. The mountains and the endless plain— All, all the stretch of these great green states— And make America again!”

After giving a voice to the minorities, Hughes reminds the reader that this country was made by the minorities and that “we the people” stood for them. He ends his poem, that now sounds like a powerful movement, with the hope of making America into what it once was and restoring the country to its glory. Hughes makes the reader feel so many different emotions as he gives glimpses of the many different lives that have slaved for this country, all in the name of freedom. In one small poem he is able to make the reader sympathize with the poor whites, the black, the native Americans, and all of the other groups of people who have struggled to make their dreams a reality. I think Hughes was way ahead of his time, and if he had come out with this poem a decade or two later, it could have easily started a revolution. I can see how many freedom fighters such as Martin Luther King could have easily been inspired by Hughes’ amazing way with words.

It is hard to say whether this poem is pro-American or anti-American. I don’t see it as either one really. It is truthful and blunt. It shows the glory of what America stood for and also reminds us how far away America is from really accomplishing what it set out to achieve. It is neither an African American poem or an American poem. This poem is raw and speaks to all Americans, rich and poor, black and white. It tells the rich that they are living a lie and it reminds the poor that they are the ones that built this country. I am sure that the primary audience would end up being the African Americans, simply because they were the ones who would most likely relate to it the most. They were also the ones who so desperately wanted to have a voice at that time and who were probably quite sick of having to keep their personal views quiet. Regardless of who the primary audience was, this poem has something to say to all Americans, even today. I personally still relate to what he says about America and it’s greed. Even today, I see many minorities struggling to make ends meet, doing the day to day work that keeps this country going, while the rich just get richer and richer and don’t even have to get their hands dirty. This is a timeless poem that is sure to inspire all walks of life for many years to come!



7 thoughts on ““Let America be America Again”

  1. Just to play devil’s advocate for a moment, the poor were definitely a moving factor in the creation of this country. Most of the people of this country came here from some place else, at some point, and I can see how the wealthy can have a different view, but to say that the rich are only interested in getting rich, and imply that they are not interested in anything else, seems to me a stereotype. Some of these rich earned their way via blood, sweat, and tears. Are they any less important than those who do not. Now yes, minorities may have to struggle to make ends meet, but what about the poor white people who also struggle. Again I liked what the poem has to say, and I feel that the message is very important, but I also think the peom still serves to hyphenate americans, and thereby not helping the problem, but to enflame the problem more.

    1. Just to clarify things a bit, when I spoke of the rich I was referring to big business. The People with the big money at the top of the corporate ladder who make the decisions such as having their product made over seas. Decisions that often have our products made in sweat shops with little kids working in inhumane conditions, all so they can maximize profit. I agree, there are rich people who do have morals and use their money to help the world, unfortunately it appears that we have more of the greedy rich individuals making the decisions at this time. Hopefully this will not be a growing trend.

  2. I had thought a lot about whether or not the poem was from the viewpoint of multiple persons, and its an interesting idea to mold three different viewpoints into one single poem, and make it still a cohesive work. I agree with comment above that stereotyping of the rich doesn’t necessarily help the situation, although there may be a few who are interested in only that, there are others who do care, and who work their asses off to get where they are. It is fascinating to look at our wealth gap though isn’t it, to see the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. Great blog!

  3. More advocacy for the devil:

    I assume by saying ‘the poor built this country,’ you mean to say that they performed the manual labor that produced the actual infrastructure, or maybe even occupied seemingly tedious jobs allowing for things to work. But why do we perceive this to be of higher value than the planning, organization, and funding of the building of our country? Or do we? Did the laborers in China build Apple, or was it the genius and vision of Steve Jobs? (I have a tendency to think that way too. Not sure why)

    I think more than anything, the poem is anti-American, and by being so, it is very pro-American. It’s Anti-American in the sense that Hughes didn’t like the current state of the country. However, he realized the potential of our nation through its constitutional foundation, and so through his criticism and in his hope for change, he is being very pro-American.

  4. I think possibly the main target would have been the African Americans, however this poem related pretty well to anyone struggling. This didn’t exclude white people either, plenty of whites suffered for other reasons. One of my favourite parts of this poem is that it is humble in the sense that he doesn’t think everything is only happening to him, or his people. Great analysis of the poem 🙂

  5. Joni, this is an excellent reading of this poem. Your discussion of the three different voices is especially strong, detailed, and insightful.

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