Let America Be America

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The poem "Let America Be America Again" by Langston Hughes purposefully is reminiscent of Walt Whitman's "I Hear America Singing" in which Whitman is optimistic about this land of democratic opportunity. Hughes, however, writing from a black man's perspective, is much less optimistic about what American has been or will be. While Whitman's' poem was very unstructured in blank verse, Hughes's poem is more tightly controlled with rhyme, tone, rhetorical questions, and more unified with repeated anaphora. Langston Hughes uses connotation well in this poem to evoke all of the wonderfully patriotic images of America but also to make the reader question these images. Was American a "dream" for everyone? Lines such as "But opportunity is real, and life is free, Equality is in the air we breathe" (Hughes) make the reader question the idea of opportunity for all because as Hughes states, "there has never been equality for me" (Hughes). Many of these lines use not only connotation but an appeal to emotion as well. "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," (Hughes). These images are very vivid. The idea of scars connotes all the violence and beatings of slavery, which makes the reader even more passionate. These lines pull at the heartstrings of any reader with a conscience as we are forced to remember some of the atrocities that are also America. And yet, Hughes ends the poem on an optimistic note.

His tone in the poem also contributes to the meaning. His tone seems almost confessional, like the poet is talking about his own experience in America. Hughes points out all the flaws in the ideas of equal opportunity and freedom in his poem. Then periodically he speaks to the reader outright with lines such as, "O, yes, I say it plain, America never was America to me, And yet I swear this oath-- America will be!" Speaking outright to the reader is very effective in communicating his ideas....
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