What literary devices does Langston Hughes use in "Let America Be America Again"?

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Michael Ugulini eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Literary devices that American writer Langston Hughes uses in the 86 line poem 'Let America Be America Again’ include:

1. A rhyme scheme in certain stanzas:

For example, in stanza number 1 the rhyme schemes is ABAB. Line one rhymes with line three; line two rhymes with line four. This rhyme scheme is used again in stanza number two and three.

2. Internal rhyme

Internal rhyme is rhyme within a singular line. In line two of stanza number one:

Let it be the dream it used to be.

The internal rhyme is in the words: be, dream, be.

The internal rhyme in line one of stanza number two is dream, dreamers, dreamed.

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—

3. Alliteration

We can refer back to the above line (line one of stanza number two). Here the alliteration is the repeated “d’s” of dream, dreamers, dreamed.

Later on in the poem alliteration is achieved in the line phrase “Of grab the gold!” The use of “g’s”.

4. Symbolism and personification

Freedom in this poem is symbolized as steel in the line “The steel of freedom does not stain.” In addition, America is symbolized and personified as a pioneer.

5. A main theme

The thrust of this poem, in terms of theme, is of taking action and being positive, to make America dignified and magnificent. Langston Hughes does not believe, despite opinions to the contrary, that America has ever achieved the greatness within its reach. He makes a litany of what the shortcomings of America are. However, he does believe America can be great – or greater – and therefore, that is the theme of this poem.

6. Mood or atmosphere

With the harsh condemnations of aspects of American society and culture, the atmosphere or mood of this poem is somewhat sombre. Nonetheless, the underlying mood or atmosphere of this poem is optimistic. Langston Hughes is pushing individuals to take charge and do the “doing” to let America be America again.

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Another literary device that Langston Hughes uses in his poem "Let America Be America Again" is change of voice or narrator. The first narrator is more optimistic, expressing the ideal form of America. This person says, "Let it be the dream it used to be" in the second line. The second narrator comes in with parenthetical remarks between the stanzas. For example, the second narrator says after the first stanza, "(America never was America to me.)"

In the second stanza, the first, more hopeful narrator says, "Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed." Again, this narrator stresses the promise of America. The second narrator, in between stanzas, says, "(It never was America to me.)" After the third stanza, the second narrator says, "(There’s never been equality for me, Nor freedom in this 'homeland of the free.')" The use of shifting narration emphasizes the difference between the promise of America and the reality for many Americans, including African-Americans, Native Americans, and others. The change of narrator emphasizes the duality of America.

In addition, Hughes uses alliteration, or the repetition of the same sound at the beginning of words that are close together. Examples are "pioneer on the plain" and "land of love."

mizzwillie eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the poem "Let America Be America Again" by Langston Hughes, he uses several literary devices.  Personification is used when he writes that America or the dream "be the pioneer on the plain" which is giving human characteristics to a non human idea as dreams cannot be a human pioneer.  Another example is the dream with "its mighty daring sings" as we all know that dreams do not sing.  Alliteration is used to describe people like him who are "humble, hungry and mean.  The two consecutive H's are alliteration. Hughes also uses end rhyme such as stanza one where "be" and "free" rhyme.  Hughes makes the reader understand that this dream is one that has not existed for him but has only heard about and is yet hopeful that it will become his.