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. These words really make the reader feel for the speaker and hear the idea that America has not been “good” to everyone equally.
In fact, for some, America has never yet lived up to its reputation. Throughout the poem, Hughes uses rhetorical questions to cause the reader to pause and think. For example, “The free? Who said free? ” (Hughes) makes the reader question that exactly the free in this country are. With rhetorical questions, the reader is supposed to pause and think. But just as quickly, Hughes provides answers, “Not me” (Hughes). He answers the question quickly for the reader. The most powerful aspect of the poem “Let America Be America Again” is the repeated use of anaphora.
By using this repetition and parallel structure, Hughes gives the reader many ideas right in a row to think about. In the beginning of the poem the repeated phrase “let it be” tells the reader right away that America is not what it was supposed to be. In between, in parenthesis for emphasis, is the repeated idea of “America never was America to me” (Hughes). And to answer the unspoken question of to whom America was unfair, Hughes uses the anaphora “I am the” and continues to list all of the people who were never able to reap the benefits of the American Dream.
This he does in two different stanzas and in between these two stanzas is the repetition of “of grab the” in order to show that America has taken money and property from some in order to give it to others. Anaphora is used for emphasis, and Hughes uses it well to emphasize the idea of inequality. The poem “Let America Be America Again” by Langston Hughes is a powerful indictment of the idea of equal opportunity for all in America.
He clearly shows the reader that there never was such an idea of equality for all through such rhetorical device as connotation, rhetorical questions, and anaphora. He emphasizes all the people who have not had access to the American Dream and gives each group of people a voice in this poem. However, Hughes ends this poem on a note that is truly American-the idea of hope. He hopes that America can be all the things it was supposed to be for all. He is not about to give up on the idea of the American Dream, and he wants America to be better.