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Langston Hughes wrote the poem “Let America Be America Again” in 1935, and it was released the next year. While traveling by train from New York City to Ohio and thinking on his existence as a struggling author during the Great Depression, Hughes composed the poem. In the poem, Hughes expresses his own disappointment with the American Dream and contends that the country has fallen short of upholding its pledge of equal rights and liberty for all.
About The Poet
Over the course of a five-decade career, Langston Hughes published short stories, poems, dramas, picture stories, newspaper articles, and novels. He is regarded as one of the most significant writers of the Harlem Renaissance today, if not the most.
Langston Hughes’ poem “Let America Be America Again” has eighty-six lines and is composed of seventeen stanzas that vary in length.
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. (America never was America to me.)
The speaker of “Let America Be America Again” begins the first stanza by expressing the wish that things would return to how they were. A long time ago, there was a belief that everything was achievable in America. The “plain” offered independence, and something that one might look for a place to call home. That fantasy is, however, altering. It no longer exists as it once did.
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed— Let it be that great strong land of love Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme That any man be crushed by one above. (It never was America to me.)
The “great strong land of love” should come back, the poet pleads. According to this statement, it is the perfect place free from oppression. In this ideal depiction, a person was never oppressed by someone superior to him. But that is not, and never has been, the America that the poet knew. Hughes clarifies this, which reads, “It never was America to me. “He does not disregard his own experience because he is aware of the truth.
O, let my land be a land where Liberty Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath, But opportunity is real, and life is free, Equality is in the air we breathe. (There's never been equality for me, Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.") Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
He requests that his country be one where equality is instilled in the very air we breathe and where liberty is not crowned with an empty crown of patriotism. Although he adds, that equality has never existed for him, In this “homeland of the free,” neither has he ever felt free from the clutches of oppression. He also questions the people whispering in the dark.
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart, I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars. I am the red man driven from the land, I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek— And finding only the same old stupid plan Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
The speaker claims that he represents several people rather than simply one. He represents the calm sophistication of individuals who have failed to connect with the American dream. He is the “poor white” who has been “fooled” and exploited by those who are wealthier than him. The “red man,” who alludes to Native Americans who were “forced from the land,” is also the speaker, as is the “Negro wearing slavery’s scars.”
I am the young man, full of strength and hope, Tangled in that ancient endless chain Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land! Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need! Of work the men! Of take the pay! Of owning everything for one's own greed!
He symbolizes the “young man” who was once brimming with optimism but is now trapped in materialism and the “dog eat dog” culture. Hughes focuses on what it takes to navigate the world while pursuing success. Gaining wealth, power is necessary. They have to “grab the gold” and “grab the ways of satisfying need”. It’s all about grabbing.
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil. I am the worker sold to the machine. I am the Negro, servant to you all. I am the people, humble, hungry, mean— Hungry yet today despite the dream. Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers! I am the man who never got ahead, The poorest worker bartered through the years. Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream In the Old World while still a serf of kings, Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true, That even yet its mighty daring sings In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned That's made America the land it has become. O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas In search of what I meant to be my home— For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore, And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea, And torn from Black Africa's strand I came To build a "homeland of the free." The free?
He explains that in addition to these groups, he stands for “people, humble, hungry, and mean. He represents everyone who has been made to feel inferior and excluded from the American Dream. For him, such a dream does not at all exist. They are described as men and women who “never got ahead”. He has been “through the years” the “poorest worker bartered” by bosses.
The poet goes on to discuss the history of people who came to America in pursuit of that goal but were unsuccessful in achieving it. While still living in the “Old World,” when such ambitions seemed impossible, he “dreamt our basic dream.” He compares the dream that early immigrants to America sought to its collapse now. They desired something strong, courageous, and honest, yet such a thing does not yet exist. In search of a new home, he portrays himself as “the man who staled those early seas.”
He is an Irishman, a Pole, an Englishman, and an African who was ripped from the strand of Black Africa. Today, everyone is here seeking to establish a life.
Who said the free? Not me? Surely not me? The millions on relief today? The millions shot down when we strike? The millions who have nothing for our pay? For all the dreams we've dreamed And all the songs we've sung And all the hopes we've held And all the flags we've hung, The millions who have nothing for our pay— Except the dream that's almost dead today.
The next phrase calls into doubt the use of the word “free.” The poet does so in a brutal manner. He then asks several questions, “Who would even use the word “free”?” The countless numbers of people “shot down when we strike?” Or individuals who “have nothing for our pay”? He argues that there is no such thing as “free.” For any of the individuals Hughes has described, all that is left is a piece of the dream that is “almost dead today.”
O, let America be America again— The land that never has been yet— And yet must be—the land where every man is free. The land that's mine—the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME— Who made America, Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain, Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain, Must bring back our mighty dream again.
He explores both the existing state of America and his idealized vision of it. He mentions both himself and everyone who has contributed to “making America what it is.” According to him, the people who gave their “sweat and blood” should reap the greatest rewards. The foundation of America is “faith and pain,” and those who have sacrificed the most should get the rewards. He believes that eventually the dream will come back to them.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose— The steel of freedom does not stain. From those who live like leeches on the people's lives, We must take back our land again, America! O, yes, I say it plain, America never was America to me, And yet I swear this oath— America will be! Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death, The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies, 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!
Although the poet will receive “ugly names,” nothing will stop him from chasing his goal of independence. The “leeches” won’t be able to bring him down either. “We must take back our land again,” he urges the audience, “and make it the America it was meant to be.” Although it may not currently or in the past have felt like free America to the speaker, but he sets out to transform it into the America he envisions. The speaker of “Let America Be America Again” says in the poem’s closing lines that something wonderful and light will emerge from the darkness and the population will be set free.