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The most striking difference in these two poems is the contrast between Whitman's expansive sense of inclusiveness and Hughes' sense of isolation and exclusion.
While Hughes' poem depicts a situation where near-future will allow for greater inclusion when "Nobody’ll dare/Say to me,/“Eat in the kitchen," the poem's essential commentary is one of current exclusion. The narrator portrays a social divide and social policy of discrimination.
Whitman's poem, arguably, depicts the same America yet Whitman's approach and intention is rather contrary to that of Langston Hughes in "I, Too, Sing America."
In "I Hear America Singing," Whitman recognizes the differences between various types of people in America, noting that the voices he hears are "[e]ach singing what belongs to him or her and to none else," yet the ethos of the poem is one of social togetherness and inclusion. Despite difference, America stands as a single tapestry of peoples for Whitman.
There is no bitterness in Whitman's poem, but instead an energized, embracing emotion that might be characterized as joy. Hughes' poem is humorous, but only in an ironic way. He too celebrates a beauty, but his central effort is not to depict that beauty (as it is for Whitman in his poem).
The central effort in Hughes' poem is to articulate the emotional results of the social divide (bitterness and resentment and frustrated pride), even as he looks to a promise of improvement and of increased respect in the future.
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