Let America Be America Again Theme

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mrs-campbell's profile pic

mrs-campbell | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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This poem is a powerful message of how Hughes feels that America-which is supposed to be a land of dreams, equality and opportunity for all, no matter what race, religion or creed-has become a place where in fact that idea does not exist anymore.  Instead, it is a place where racism, greed, materialism and discrimination rule instead of opportunity and love.  He writes the poem not only from the perspective of a black man discriminated against (which he is), but from every form of down-trodden and abused person in America:  the "red man", "immigrant", "farmer", "worker", "poorest", all who are "bartered", "driven" and "pushed" from their dreams and rights.  He goes on to say that it is precisely this type of person who originally "dreamt our basic dream" of what America could and should be; it is precisely that type of person that was the "pioneer" of America.  He ends optimistically with a rallying cry, a call to action, heralding all these people to "redeem the land...and make America again."

Overall, the theme is one of unification against injustice.  Another possible theme is inequality that exists in America.  Another is corruption, and how it has destroyed the American dream.  It's a great poem-layered, profound, frustrating and inspiring all at once.  I hope that helps a bit!  Good luck!

ansleyclark's profile pic

ansleyclark | College Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

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The previous response already touched on many of the important themes in this poem, so I'll just add a couple more. This poem is especially chilling in the face of our current political climate. Other themes of this poem include the silencing of marginalized voices, the idea that America is a country founded on deception, and the idealization of America vs. the reality of America.

Regarding the silencing of marginalized voices, such as the voices of people of color and poor people, Hughes brings out this theme with his use of parentheses and italics, especially early on in the poem. Hughes includes stanzas that assert that we need to let America "be the dream it used to be," and that America should return to being "that great strong land of love." However, between these stanzas, Hughes weaves a second voice that says, "(America never was America to me)" and "Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?" This second voice is almost a whisper or an aside--a mumble in the dark. Hughes uses parenthesis and italics to make it seem like this second voice is almost being drowned out by the other, "louder" voices that want America to be great again. The juxtaposition of these two voices depicts the ways in which the marginalized voices are silenced and ignored in America.

The juxtaposition of these opposing voices also speaks to the second and third themes: the idea that America is a country founded on deception, and the idealization of America vs. the reality of America. The opposing voices, which almost seem to be arguing with each other in the poem, imply that perhaps America never was "great," that it never actually was the dreamland that we think it is, and that it has always been a country founded on deception, violence, racism, and classism. Hughes also tells us this more directly in the lines "O, let America be America again— / The land that never has been yet—"

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