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Let America Be America Again -

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Jordan Stemple

on 27 March 2014

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Transcript of Let America Be America Again -

Let America Be America Again -
Langston Hughes

America
There is a beauty in American patriotism. The expression of freedom, but especially the expression of pride gives strong feelings of belonging and meaning. The pride that is contained in America, the aspect of holding on to something and boasting for it, is one of the most important factors that is holding our country together today.
Background
Written in 1935, then published in magazines later
Written 7 years after WWI and 4 years before WWII
Purposely reminiscent of Walt Whitman's "I Hear America Singing" in which Whitman is optimistic about this land of democratic opportunity
Hughe's writes from a black man's perspective and is much less optimistic about what America has been or will be
In the poem, he uses connotation fantastically to evoke all of the wonderfully patriotic images of America but also to make the reader question those images
For example lines 13-15: "But opportunity is real, and life is free, Equality is in the air we breathe" but then he says, "There has never been equality for me."
He portrays the emotion of not only the African Americans who were oppressed, but anyone who has been oppressed. The poem is, in a sense, a ginormous paradox, describing America in all it's glory, as well as forcing us to remember the atrocities that are also America

Analysis
Worldviews: (there aren't any that really stand out as a prominent worldview, just different aspects of many)
Langston Hughes was specifically a Realist
Modernism - Langston Hughes was from the Harlem Reniassiance period, he wrote jazzy poetry in which he was devoted to,that express the struggles of black America and he confronted racial stereotypes and he believes in expressionism,
The poem portrays a realist feel and exposes the problems of America
Hughes was also drawn to Communism as an alternative to the segregated America he was a part of
He pushes really hard for equality L. 19-24 (explains the many different oppressed groups and states that they are a part of America too)
Some say that this poem has almost a nihilist feel to it, due to the deep emotion he feels and how he expresses his sadness
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.)

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.)

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?

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.


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.

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.

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!
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!

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?

But America has seen some darker days, ones that are filled with shame and embarrassment, that call for forgiveness. It is important to understand that America stands for so much, so much that we sometimes do not even realize. Langston Hughes expresses his optimistically hurt feelings toward America in this poem
Background Con't
The repetition of the line "Let America be America again is very effective in proving his point that America hasn't proven itself as it was advertized. People see America in a different way and it is not a perfect country with freedom.
Also the parenthesis is used for great evidenced repetition saying "America never was America to me"
He writes from a different point of view than you would expect especially at this time in history, when patriotism is very prevalent due to the war and mobilization
He takes the idea that many people associate America with and flips shining light on the realistic point of view.
He ends the poem on an optimistic note that is truly American - the idea of hope
He hopes that America can be all the things it is supposed to be for all. He doesn't give up on the idea of the American Dream and believes that America will be better - "All, all the stretch of these great green states--And make America again!"
Answering the Seven Questions
1. Prime Reality
- Humans - we have the ability to make changes in the world. In the end of the poem, he says, "[We] must bring back our dream again" It's our job to make things right. He does not call out to a God or gods in the poem but instead takes action

2. Human Nature
-We are born to be free. This is the main part of the movement he was a part of but the poem is all about this.
-Man is basically good. Mankind has been corrupted and so many problems have arisen, but he believes that man can turn it around and become good again

3. History
- History is evidence of things that we want to change. He wants to move on from the past and create a new reality that is different than the experiences he has had. We need to look back at history to see the evil and the corruption that was so prevalent. He is bringing to light, a different perspective on history that many people hadn't thought of before.

Critics

Works Cited
Poets.org, "Let America Be America Again" - poem
Yahoo Voices - Analysis of Let America Be America Again by Langston Hughes - analysis by Julia Moore
Modern American Poetry - "On 'Let America Be America Again'" - analysis by James Presley
Humanities 360 - "Let America be America again" - analysis by Arden Davidson
OpenBible.info - biblical reference

Many modern critics agree with his point of view and find that the same thoughts and observations are relevant to today.
The dream of equality and freedom was conceived but never actually born - "O, let America be America again, The land that never has been yet, And yet must be." This stands out to many people today and is hard to wrap our minds around
Many people did not appreciate this poem because it was written right in between the two World Wars and wanted pride and patriotism as troops and armies were mobilized
Langston Hughes was one of the most influential poets and Black Rights leader of the time, or even to this day. Many people read and received his poems and changes were made because of it.

Effectiveness
Hughes does a very good job of using language and structure to portray his feelings and emotions. He exposes the problem very effectively and doesn't give a solution. He wants the reader, the individual out there, to figure out what to do about it. He is not very straightforward in his writing which causes the reader to have to think deeply about what he is saying. Even to this day, it causes us to question the foundation that America was built on or conceived and how we are carrying out the dream. The poem is very sad and melancholy except for parts here and there that give small hints of hope. For example, the line, "And yet I swear this oath/America will be!". The lines like that give us hope that we can create the country it was dreamt up to be.

Biblical Comparison
There are specific bible verses that talk about equality
Galatians 3:28 - There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Mark 12:31 - The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.
Romans 2:11 - For God shows no partiality.
We are to love our neighbor and show no partiality, which is what Hughes was trying to convey in his poem, he just did not go at it from a Biblical point of view
Our strength needs to come from God and not individual
Philippians 4:13 - I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Isaiah 41:10 - Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
God needs to be our strength. Hughes sought out change from a human perspective and it had results, but God needs to be the power behind our every move.
Questions from a Christian
First of all, this work does not have a sinful meaning behind it. It isn't Christian either but there are not "faith-shaking" aspects of the poem that need to be discussed.
Questions:
Where does our strength come from?
How do we change such a dominant culture for the better and/or for Christ?
Is America heading in a good direction or a bad direction and do we have a role, as Christians to direct that way?
Are we able to see clearly the problems in our cultures and what are we doing about them?
Conclusion
I really enjoy Langston Hughes and the influences he has on society and on literature. He was a great man with very interesting and captivating thoughts about life, about rights and about freedom. He was/is one of the most influential writers to this day, and the insights he had on specific topics are amazing. I would recommend reading his works, whether you are Christian, Atheist, Jew, Modernist, etc. He expresses improvements of almost a century ago, but many of the things he exposes can still mean a lot in today's society and culture. This poem is especially one that we can relate to today. There are still so many oppressed in America, and the mindset is still, "We are the best!". We have to keep our eyes open to the problems around us and not get caught up in our pride.
This video is just a reading of the poem but it is very dramatic and has images that go along with the poem really well, relating it to today's society
Full transcript