Let America Be America Again by Langston Hughes Line By Line Summary
Langston Hughes is writing a poem of someone who feels that America does not live up to what it should be. The tone is angry and resentful. This poem is not representing the point of view of one particular group. It’s saying that there are many people who’ve come here with hopes and dreams and they’re being let down. He’s also saying that there is an economic disparity (difference) between people. In essence, the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer, because there is not equal opportunity.
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. 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 black man 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.
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 black man, 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 sea. 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? 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 abuse 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.
1-5: The reader is immediately introduced to the fact that the author does not believe that America is all it can be due to the fact that the word "again" is used. He wants America to be “the dream it used to be.” But the powerful line is #5 which reads “America was never America.” This voices what many people feel: that America's ideals of equality, liberty, and freedom don’t seem real.
6-10: In a sense, there is a positive tone because there is a hope that America can be a “great strong land of love,” but then it he uses words and phrases like “kings connive,” “tyrant’s scheme,’' and “crushed.” Therefore, he conveys that there are people in power who are in control and deprive others of opportunities. Line 10 repeats the idea that America isn’t what it could be for him. So, lines #5 and #10 share the same message.
11-14: Liberty, which is another word for freedom, is important in the dream America holds so preciously. The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of America. It was a welcoming site for people who immigrated here. So, it is a symbol of America and holds hope of what America represents. Hughes wants an America that is “crowned with no false patriotic wreathe.” So, he wants a real, patriotic, true America, with no false promises.
15-16: This is a repeat of the message from lines #5 and #10—hat equality doesn't exist for him.
17-19: This poses the idea of darkness and something veiled, like idea of freedom for him is dark or blocked.
20-25: In this stanza, we learn that this is not just about one group of people. Hughes is speaking for many who aren’t included in America’s reality—poor whites, African Americans, American Indians, and immigrants are all groups who’ve been left out.
26-32: The central message here is one of greed. Money is at the center of what America has become. Hughes feels that “power, gain” and owning property is the focus. It’s all about money. He says in line #32 “Of owning everything for one’s own greed!” To him, that’s what America has become.
33-40: To personalize and give a face to people who aren’t a part of the American Dream, he uses the words “I am” over and over. Whether one is a farmer or a worker, he says “I am the people” and says that those in this position are getting mad and hungry, and feel “beaten” on line #38. It’s really saying that some people are working hard, but the dream isn’t there for them.
41-52: This makes the poem about the individual. Hughes says “I’m the one…” and “I’m the man…” and “I came” and “I meant ” to express the fact that people came here with high hopes and big dreams, whether as immigrants from Ireland, Poland, England—or “torn” from Africa and forced into slavery here. All should have a “homeland of the free.”
53: “The free!” This says it all—the fact that we should all be free in every way: legally, socially, economically, to enjoy America on equal level.
54-63: Hughes is coming back and saying sarcastically that he wouldn’t say there is freedom. He is speaking for the “millions” of people who have been struggling, hoping, working, and flying American flags, “who have nothing” except for dreams that are “almost dead.” But, the fact that he uses the word almost shows a little hope. It reminds us of how happy and meaningful it was for many people when Obama was elected. It gave people the hope that they needed.
64-74: Langston Hughes is saying that America needs to be what it hasn’t been yet, a place ”where every man is free." He capitalizes the word “me” on line #69, because he desperately wants to realize the American dream. Again, we see hope when he says “bring back our mighty dream again.”
75-80: Reclaiming the idea of America is the idea here. It has to be for everyone.
81-85: Hopes resonates here. Langston Hughes ends this with a sense of hope by saying “And yet I wear this oath-America will be!” on lines #84-85
86-94: “We the people, must redeem” is powerful. It’s a strong, passionate message that America must be more than it is, and that it can be!
Stanzas: Stanzas separate the parts of the poem. However, his stanzas vary in length. The variation depends on the message. There is no exact number of lines to each one.
Rhyme: Hughes uses rhyme to draw attention to the poetic element of his message. Words such as “be" and “free” in lines 2 and 4, “dreamed" and “schemed" in lines 6 and 8, and “wreathe" and “breathe” in lines 12 and 14, all demonstrate rhyming.
Repetition: Repetition is used for effect here with variations of the message that freedom doesn’t exist for Hughes. To be specific, line 5 says “America never was America for me.” Line 10 says “It never was America for me.” His refrain here is the main theme: that he hasn’t felt a part of the American dream. That’s why it’s set apart from other lines, for emphasis.
Metaphor: Hughes uses the word machine on line 34 when he says, “I am the worker sold to the machine.” The machine is a metaphor for the American system that has let him down.
Alliteration: The phrase on line #4 represents alliteration. It says “dream the dreamers dreamed.” Another example is on line #11 with “O, let my land be a land where liberty,” and “live like leeches on the people’s lives”, on lines #77-78.
Point of View: Told in the first person. Uses the word “I’ throughout.
Extended Metaphor: America is used as an extended metaphor because it is a word used throughout the poem with many comparisons of what it should be. It should be a land of the free on line #4, opportunity on line #13, equality on line #14, and a homeland on line #52.
Figurative Language/Dialogue: As language that evokes mental images and sensory impressions, lines #17-19 evoke the images of darkness and veils. It says, “Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?" This question stands out from the poem in that its font is different, it is spoken as dialogue, and it draws the reader to an image that evokes darkness and something covered, like the dream of America is covered up or dark to certain people.
Imagery: Hughes uses imagery throughout the poem to make it speak to the reader. For example, he uses “slavery’s scars” on line #21, “the young man, full of strength and hope” on line #26, “grab the gold” on line #29.
Theme: The central theme is that the author feels left out of the American Dream. He also feels that it’s true for other minorities and those who don’t have the money, land, or power.
Tone: The tone is anger, with a little hope at the end.