Langston Hughes’ “Let America Be America Again” reveals the dismay of the speaker about the social condition of America at the time and how the country is yet to attain its reputation as the home of the free. Written from the first-person point of view, the speaker vents out frustration at the racial inequalities that cut across American society while expressing hope that “America will be” the America that the “dreamers dreamed” at the same time.
Generally, the speaker aims his or her criticisms to no particular individual but the entire American society. Taken in the context of the bitterness of the tone of the poem especially in the parts where the speaker narrates whose voices he or she is representing, the speaker directs his or her attention to the reader who may not at all be aware of the social conditions pervading America at the time. Interestingly, the tone of the poem is not bitter or frustrated throughout the entire length of the poem.
The poem begins with several stanzas that are imbued with emotionless force, proceeds with what appears to be the very meat of the poem—the disappointment towards the selfishness for power and property that takes away the very freedom that every American yearns for—and concludes with a fervent hope in the belief that America will rise from the din and reclaim its status as the “homeland of the free”. In summary, the poem shows how the speaker sees America—a country that never was the country the speaker envisions it to be.
The speaker presents a rundown of the people in America who are at the center of the problem—the “poor white,” the “Negro,” the “red man” and the “immigrant clutching the hope I seek”—all of whom are experiencing almost the same fate of inequalities. Nearing the end of the poem, the speaker expresses his or her belief that America is “the land that has never been yet” and “yet must be”, which signifies the speaker’s hope that someday “America will be”. With these things in mind, it is easy to understand that the poem’s theme revolves around the concept of “hope”.
By introducing the poem with a series of expectations and following them with a sequence of how such expectations have been unfulfilled, the speaker effectively sets the space for an ending that pins the very motive of the length of the poem. A close reading of the poem shows that the Langston Hughes achieved his purpose of letting hope become known to his readers, the hope that, despite America’s social inequalities at the time, there will come a time that the country will satisfy its label as the “homeland of the free”.
On a personal note, I think still applies today than it once did during the time of Hughes. I think the lines “the millions who have nothing for our pay” and “of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak” still closely resemble contemporary America. The current financial crisis sweeping across the country can only indicate how millions of Americans are still struggling to earn at least a decent pay, and how one person will take advantage of another just to survive in these harsh and trying times. Those things being said, there is strong reason to believe that the poem overarches from the past to the present.
Hughes may not have been aware of it, but his poem is as timely now as it used to be in the past. Although there are several other significant differences between the time of Hughes and contemporary America, “Let America Be America Again” is one of the poems that remind the average individual that America remains a country always on the quest for a more perfect union.
Hughes, Langston. “Let America Be America Again”. 1994. May 11 2009. <http://www. poets. org/viewmedia. php/prmMID/15609>.
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