In what way does author Emma Lazarus' poem "The New Colossus" about the Statue of Liberty open "actual" doors and "symbolic" doors?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The words of Emma Lazarus, in the form of the poem entitled "The New Colossus," are on a plaque on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. She begins the poem by saying what this statue is not: it is not brazen, proud, or conquering. Instead, she is the "Mother of exiles," welcoming those who have come to America. She is a "mighty woman with a torch," offering welcome and succor to the exiles from other lands.

The most recognizable passage in the sonnet is the last six lines:

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

These lines are highly symbolic, and nearly every word is somehow figurative. The entire sestet is personification, as they are being "spoken" by an inanimate statue. The words tired, poor, huddled masses, wretched refuse, homeless, and tempest-tossed are representative of all those who have left something awful behind--poverty, imprisonment, oppression, lack of opportunity, homelessness, and so much more. These are all collective nouns; however, as the groups of immigrants arrive here, they are all free to be individuals. They are the people who have everything to gain by leaving everything (even if it is not much) behind them and starting a new life in America. 

The last lines contain two symbols, the lifted, lit torch which Lady Liberty is holding, and the golden door. The lamp of the torch is lighting the way for the new opportunities which lie behind the golden door. Metaphorically, the golden door represents the freedom each immigrant will have to be themselves, to be part of a country which welcomes them. This symbolic door opens to the ideals and promise of freedom in America. These are real things though they are mostly intangible; however, these are the things which allow the "actual" doors to open for these immigrants. 

The more literal intent of the word door is opportunity. Here the literal door is open so newcomers can work and earn and buy and save and create and make whatever dreams they have become a reality. They can find jobs, learn trades, start businesses, and get an education. These "actual" opportunities are the physical things the immigrants could and did do once they arrived on America's shores. 

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