"The Hill We Climb" Themes
The main themes in “The Hill We Climb” are hope, birthright and legacy, and diversity and unity.
- Hope: The poem’s message is a hopeful one, asserting that a new “dawn” is now breaking in which Americans have the opportunity to create a more just and inclusive society.
- Birthright and legacy: Gorman portrays America and its ideals as a “birthright” and emphasizes Americans’ responsibility to leave a positive “legacy” for the next generation.
- Diversity and unity: In spite of America’s deep divisions, Gorman writes, the nation’s diversity can be looked to as a source of unity, beauty, courage, and strength.
Last Updated on September 6, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 846
Hope is one of the key themes of Amanda Gorman's "The Hill We Climb," perhaps the defining theme of the whole poem. The promise of hope is alluded to in the opening line, when Gorman questions where "light" can be found in what seems to be a period of unending darkness. She quickly answers the question with the promise of a "dawn" that she views as having arisen almost unexpectedly.
This imagery of dawn, light, and brightness permeates the poem: in its triumphal closing lines, Gorman observes that "light" is always there in the darkness and requires only the bravery of an open mind to see. Other hopeful imagery in the poem revolves around the concept of rising upward, as if out of the darkness into which the United States seems to have fallen: Gorman uses anaphora on the phrase "we will rise" to underscore the conviction of her hope that citizens of the United States, from every part of the diverse and "beautiful" country, will come together again.
There is no allowance in this poem for a future in which "catastrophe" prevails. On the contrary, its emphasis is very much upon the new "dawn" that is coming and upon the "legacy" and "birthright" that will be bequeathed to the children of those who are now working to "repair" America. Gorman's is a poem that suggests relief at having reached a turning point rather than despair at having narrowly escaped the destruction of a democracy.
Birthright and Legacy
Gorman's poem is very much concerned with America as a "birthright" and with being American as being a state of having inherited certain ideals and burdens from the country's founders. The language used to describe America itself suggests that it is almost a living thing, something that can be "bruised" but has not yet been destroyed. There is a sense that, inasmuch as the inhabitants of the United States belong to that country, so, too, does the country belong to them, and it is the responsibility of today's Americans to ensure that their "blunders" do not become the "burdens" of "the next generation."
Words such as "legacy" and "birthright" underscore this idea, while Gorman also alludes to other ideas of early America that still resonate, both for good and for evil. While the Northeastern states still harbor memories of the days when "our forefathers first realized revolution," Gorman herself is a "Black girl descended from slaves," and it is only because of positive change in the nation and her own "optimism" that she can now find herself reciting poetry for a president or dreaming of becoming one herself. The union is not "perfect," and previous generations of Americans have inherited terrible legacies, such as that of slavery. However, Gorman argues that while today's Americans are "heirs" of a "terrifying hour," they also have the capacity and opportunity to turn their legacy into one of "love" instead.
The America that Gorman imagines going forward, moreover, represents a form of rebirth: she encourages modern Americans to come together to "repair" what has been broken and bruised rather than resigning themselves to a period of darkness.
Diversity and Unity
As Gorman herself has observed, unity, and how unity can come of diversity, is one of the prevailing themes of her poem. She does not argue that division has not struck deep into the heart of America—on the contrary, the nation has "weathered" a difficult period and as yet is not "polished." The striving to come together as a "union," she argues, is simply an ongoing struggle.
Gorman illuminates this by indicating that she herself...
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is a descendant of slaves and yet can now recite her poetry for a president. She represents an example of a great division in American society—that of race and racial injustice—being overcome through optimism, unity, and attempts to "close the divide." She argues that while America may not yet be a country truly committed to people of all "cultures, colors, characters and conditions," it is possible that it can become such a country if violent "arms" are laid down and loving "arms" are extended. Although "harm" can replace "harmony," the diversity of America will never be what destroys it. Instead, the American people who have fought through this period of intense division will be "tied together" by the period of difficulty, all united by the fact of having been alive at this moment. Gorman urges her readers and listeners to recognize the "power" this moment offers them, to fill the nation with "love" and help heal the wounds of their battered country rather than viewing this as a point at which to despair.
In the closing section of the poem, perhaps its strongest point, Gorman repeatedly describes America as "beautiful" as she underscores its great diversity: each "corner" of the country, from the Northeast to the Midwest to the "sun-baked South," will be a key part of the struggle to rebuild the nation again. Now is a moment to take courage and strength from diversity rather than allow it to broaden existing divisions.