The American Dream is a held belief of aspiration, in which the American people should pursue opportunities towards success through hard work and determination. The Dream acts as an inspiration, by giving Americans a positive outlook for a better tomorrow. In poems, such as Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing” and “Let America be America Again” by Langston Hughes, the poets share their ideas of what America is supposed to be. Both poets explore the pursuit of the American Dream using figurative language; however, Whitman celebrates the situation of individual efforts of Americans whereas Hughes focuses on the collective situation of struggle by African Americans.
Whitman presents different individuals of the American working class, and illustrates the way they sing when completing their duties. For instance, in line 1, the speaker expresses: “I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear…/The mason singing…/The shoemaker singing”, etc (). Here, the word ‘varied’ indicates a sense of diversity in the country, as people from different professions sing harmoniously, under one shared American identity; and henceforth, the poet provides a feeling of unity.
Moreover, in connection to equality, line 8 reveals the poet’s progressive attitude, when he states: “…The…singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing”. () With this, the poet does not only show mothers or homemakers finishing up their domestic tasks, but reveals that his vision of America is one that includes both woman and man. With this said, Whitman gives them equivalent importance, and acknowledges that their involvements contribute to a prosperous American society.
In contrast, Hughes paints a darker reality in regards to inclusion. For instance, when he states: “There’s never been equality for me”, the poet makes his readers question the notions of opportunity and fairness in the country. He goes on to mention, “I am the poor white…pushed apart, / I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars. / I am the red man driven from the land” (). These lines force readers to remember the discrimination, violence and loss brought about by this America, and also makes one realize that these marginalized groups do not have the same opportunities, like individuals hailing from White, middle and upper-class families. In connection to unity, Hughes ultimately displays a ‘labelled America’, instead of a unified one.
Furthermore, Hughes states: “…Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.” (). In this line, the poet evokes another bleak reality, in which ostracized groups in this “land of opportunity”, are stepped on and taken advantage of by those with the upper hand. Despite their ambitions and hard work, Hughes indicates that greed dominates American society. In connection to this, these lines remind the reader of “The Great Depression”. This economic downturn that lasted from 1929-1939, left millions of Americans unemployed, with the great inequality present between the wealthy “…who accounted for a third of all wealth”, and the poor “…who had no savings at all” (). Therefore, Hughes displays these vivid images as a way to express the dissonance between the positive images of America, and what it actually is.