Let America Be America Again Analysis | Summary and Poem Approaches by Langston Hughes

Let America Be America Again Analysis: The speaker opens the poem with an apparently patriotic pronouncement to let America be the country it once was, to once again incorporate the principles it champions. The speaker expresses nostalgia for a previous version of America that championed freedom.

The speaker asks for America to again be the kind of place that winners freedom above everything else, where everyone has the same, legitimate opportunities, and an unshakeable belief inequality defines life. The speaker summons those who have been failed by the false promise of the American Dream.

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The speaker identifies with the experiences of oppressed groups throughout American history: poor white individuals, African Americans tormented by the history of slavery, Native Americans pushed away from their own land by settlers, immigrants in search of a better future— yet who quickly realize that America is just like everywhere else, with the rich and powerful stomping all over the poor and marginalized.

The speaker identifies with a hopeful young person whose dreams will never actually be realized. The United States operates on the same principles of greed and domination that have been the fabric of society since ancient civilization—principles that prioritize profits above all else, that encourage the hoarding of land and gold and the exploitation of workers.

The speaker identifies with the experiences of those whose lives are characterized by an absolute lack of freedom: the farmer is bound to the soil, the worker to the machine, the African American to servitude.

The speaker then recognizes with the masses of regular people, pushed to the verge of cruelty by their starvation—something the American Dream has done nothing to decline. The speaker then pushes back against the proposition that a strong work ethic will guide economic and personal success, referring to working-class men who work hard their entire lives yet never escape poverty.

The speaker escalates this critique by pointing out that the most oppressed groups in America today were originally the most committed to the American Dream’s vision. European immigrants, who travelled to America from the “Old World” to seek out new opportunities and avoid persecution in their homelands, laid the cultural foundation for what would become the American Dream.

The speaker contends that these immigrants, along with African slaves who were transported overseas against their will, were the ones who actually built the “homeland of the free” from the ground up. The speaker stops to consider who is actually included in the “homeland of the free.

The speaker sets up the poem’s conclusion with a call to action for America to be itself again. While the speaker is adamant that the United States has failed to live up to its promise thus far, the speaker is confident that the American Dream’s realization is not only possible but necessary.

The speaker calls upon oppressed communities—the poor, Native Americans, African Americans, those whose blood, sweat, and tears build this country—to rise and reinvent America according to its powerful founding ideals of equality and freedom for all.

The speaker believes that the American Dream can be actualized once and for all, but only through the efforts of those who formed the backbone of the United States since its inception. The people must rise from their horrific mistreatment and reclaim what’s theirs—every bit of America, from sea to sea and everything in between. Only then can America truly embody the ideals on which it was founded.

Hughes wrote the poem during the Great Depression. The economic devastation of this event created a crisis of American cultural identity; white had been built on the promise of upward mobility (essentially, the ability to rise out of the lower and middle classes) and greater opportunity for people from all walks of life.

The speaker echoes this cultural crisis in the opening lines by declaring, “Let America Be America Again Analysis. Let it be the dream it used to be.” In other words, the speaker implies that America has lost its way and implores the country to return to its former glory.

However, it becomes clear that the speaker does not actually agree with this nostalgic vision of American society. In fact, the speaker rebukes the belief that America was ever the “America” it has long been portrayed as, insisting instead that the American Dream was never achieved in the past.

The speaker further invokes the founding ideals of freedom and equality, suggesting that American society has failed to meet the very standard on which it was built. The speaker makes this disdain for hollow talk of freedom and quality clear through a sarcastic reference to patriotic language, stating, “There’s never been equality for me / Nor freedom in this ‘homeland of the free.'”

Summary of Let America Be America Again Analysis

The author, Langston Hughes, in the poem ‘Let America Be America Again Analysis’,  compares the American actuality with the American dream to appear what America has become and what it was meant to be. America meant equality and freedom, but it has become the exact opposite and a story of greed, inequality and oppression.

Hughes is one of the most significant names associated with the Harlem Renaissance. He had gained recognition as an eminent poet at the early age of 24 when Du Bose Heyward called attention to his rising stature in one of his articles for the New York Herald Tribune.

However, Hughes mainly attracted criticism during his early career.  His ‘Let America Be America Again Analysis’ was published in 1936. This poem is a cry out to turn back and see where we were fated to go and where we have arrived. The poem starts with the remark of a dream of freedom and equality.

Analysis of Let America Be America Again

Poetic Approaches in Let America Be America Again Analysis

Some of the poetic techniques used are anaphora, enjambment, alliteration and metaphor. One of the devices or techniques he used was repetition. This poem repeats the phrase ‘Let America be’.  It repeats this because he was trying to let others know that America wasn’t what the public thought it was.

Hughes wanted America to be the nation of the unshackled and free, the nation of the fantasizers. He desired to let America be what it was fated. Hughes was belligerent, which means that he wanted a change. He wanted to change inequality.

Another phrase that the poem repeats is ‘I am. This makes you sense like you are that individual. It makes the poem more powerful. Using this phrase makes the reader more alert about what is going on in the poem. Hughes is trying to make a critical point.

He wants individuals to know that America wasn’t the nation of the free. He voices that there wasn’t just discrimination again African Americans; there were other groups of people being treated unequally. Another poetic device that Hughes used in his poem was personification.

The poem says, ‘Who made America, Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain.’ This expresses America as a person. An individual whose blood, sweat and tears raised the land.

Another type of personification used is ‘Let America be the pioneer on the plain.’ This is making America seem like a colonizer. America is always known to be first, but it hasn’t been the first to find freedom. Hughes also used a simile that caught attention.

He used the word ‘leeches’. This might have denoted how the white people were sucking each thing that wasn’t owned by them and keeping it for themselves. These small words make the poem more attractive. It makes the reader really contemplate what it may mean. Throughout the poem, Hughes compares his dreams and poems for America.

By looking through this poem and seeing which poetic devices were used, it is evident that this poem’s theme is that for America to be America again, it has to accept all the people who live in it.

Poetic Approaches in Let America Be America Again Analysis

Analysis of Let America Be America Again

Lines 1-5

The opening stanza starts with a proclamation, invoking a sense of nostalgia for a better version of America that has (supposedly) come and gone. The speaker seems to want America to be once again the kind of place defined by a sense of freedom and opportunity for all, for the country to embody the “American Dream” itself once again.

The first set of lines establishes the speaker’s frequent use of anaphora. The repetition of “Let” and “Let it be the” make the poem feel like an invocation of sorts. This is also likely an allusion to the lyric “let freedom ring” from the song “America (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee),” which served as a de facto national anthem until the 1930s. The speaker, then, is using language deeply connected to America and its founding ideals.

Indeed, the word “America” is used four times within the first five lines. Additionally, the speaker references the concept of the American Dream directly in the second line. This reference effectively positions the speaker’s discussion about this cultural concept and its social, political, and historical implications.

The speaker personifies America itself as the “pioneer” seeking freedom in a new land. The pioneer’s figure is emblematic of the American Dream and its promise of newfound freedom and opportunity. By drawing from the American cultural imagination, the speaker initially seems to endorse conventional American society attitudes. This perspective, however, is immediately contradicted by the stand-alone line that follows the first stanza:(America never was America to me.)

The speaker suggests that the American Dream never reached fruition in their own life, indicating that the speaker’s perspective is more complex than it appeared to be at first glance.

The fact that this phrase is contained within parenthesis and separated from the opening stanza suggests that it is something the broader narrative of America has ignored; the speaker’s experience is an inconvenient reality that undermines the idea that America was ever the kind of place it has purported to be. In terms of form, the opening stanza is a quatrain and with an ABAB rhyme scheme. There’s the slant rhyme of “again”/”plain” and the full rhyme of “be”/”free.”

This is a pretty easy, standard pattern for a poem, suggesting a sense of complacency—which is then abruptly broken by the stand-alone line 5. However, this stand-alone line also rhymes with the B sound from the quatrain—that is, “me” rhymes with “be” and “free”—suggesting that, though the speaker has been excluded from the American dream, the speaker, too, is still a part of America.

Lines 6-10

With a similar rhyme pattern, the second lyrical quatrain emphasizes the dream, the original foresight people had for the USA, one of love and equality. There would be no feudal methodology in place, no dictatorships – everyone would be the same. Note the comparison of the language used here.

There the dream and love of those who would be equal against those who would connive, scheme and crush. Another line in hiatus, as if the speaker is silently reasserting his inner voice – again making the point that this America hasn’t lived for him, hinting that he is far from the Dream. He is dubious, to say the least.

Lines 11-16

With an alternating rhyme for familiarity, the third quatrain highlights the outer ideals – the dressing up of Liberty simply for show, phony patriotism. The capital L fortifies the idea that this could be the Statue of Liberty, the popular idol based on a goddess who holds the torch in one hand and the Declaration of Independence in the other.

Broken chains lie by her feet. The appeal continues to make the dream possible to manifest in opportunity and equality for all. The proposition that equality could be in the air everyone breathes means that equality should be inborn given, part of the fabric that keeps us all alive, sharing the common air.

The rhyming couplet in parentheses once again reoccurs that, for the speaker personally, equality has been out of range, perhaps just has never existed.  The same goes for freedom. (Homeland of the free – could have derived from the Star-Spangled Banner lyrics ‘land of the free.’)

Lines 17-24

In italics for special causes, these lines, two questions, represent a turning point in the poem; they are a different aspect of the speaker’s identity. These two questions recall, questioning the speaker’s pessimism (in parentheses) and looking forward.

The veil metaphor has biblical links (in Corinthians), alluding to a darkening of reality and not seeing the truth. The first one of the sextets, six lines which convey yet another facet of the speaker, who now talks as and for, one of the maltreated, in the first person, I am.

Yet, this voice also conveys the collective, articulating a mass emotion. And note that every type of person is incorporated: white, black, native American, the immigrant. All are subject to the cruel competition and the hierarchical systems imposed upon them.

Lines 25-30

The second sextet points to the young man, any young man, no matter, caught up in the industrial chaos of benefits for profit’s sake, where greed is good, and power is the ultimate goal. The ugly, intolerable face of capitalism encourages only selfishness at any expense.

Lines 31-38

Again, the repeated phrase I am brings home the sense loud and clear in this octet: the organization is cruellest to the poorest. From the farmer to the retailer, from the land to the wealthy’s fine houses, for many, the Dream means only hunger and poverty. Workers become dehumanized, become mere numbers and are treated as if they are commodities or money.

Lines 39-50

The hugest stanza in the poem, 12 lines, focuses on the history of those immigrants who fantasize about fundamental freedoms in the first place. This is a cruel irony. Those fleeing poverty, war and repression, those forced to leave their lands, had this dream inside, a dream of being truly unconfined in a new land.

They proceeded to America in the hope of realizing this dream. Individuals from Old Europe, many from Africa, all set out for a new life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (Thomas Jefferson).

Lines 51-61

A single line, another formidable question. The earlier twelve lines (, the earlier 50 lines) all led to this acute point. The next ten lines discover this notion of free. But the speaker seems baffled – where did this crazy question originate? It’s as if the speaker does not know himself any longer or why the question of the free should arise.

Exactly who are the free? There are millions with little or nothing. When labour is drawn out and, a legitimate protest organized, the authorities counteract with the bullet. Protest banners and songs and hope count for little – all that’s left is a barely breathing dream.

Lines 62-69

The speaker takes a deep breath and recurrent the starting line, only with more sentimental input. O, Let America Be America Again Analysis. This is a prayer from the heart, this time more personal – ME – yet taking in many different people.

Lines 70-79

No matter the mistreatment, the pursuit of freedom is pure and powerful. Those who have utilized the poor and sucked out their lifeblood (note the simile – like leeches) need to start thinking again about property ownership and rights. A short quatrain, a summing up of the speaker’s take on the American Dream. A direct proclamation – the Dream will manifest at some time. It has to.

Lines 80-86

The final septet deduces that, out of the old awful, criminal system, the individuals will renew and refresh and reestablish something sustainable and wholesome. There remain aspirations that the cherished ideal – America – can be made good again.