Langston Hughes's Counterpublic Discourse

Document Type


Publication Date



In the Whitmanesque "Let America Be America Again," Langston Hughes adopts an oratorical voice in order to define the goals of American democracy and rally his readers to a multiethnic vision of economic and political justice in the midst of the Depression. He also adopts a more private voice that conflicts with the official public one in order to articulate the fundamental contradiction of systematic racial injustice in a reputedly democratic nation. Hughes addresses a heterogeneous audience that includes not only "the Negro," but also "the poor white," "the red man driven from the land," and the recent immigrant. (1) Nevertheless, in "Let America Be America Again," Hughes retains his keen sense of the outsider status forced upon African Americans throughout the history of the United States. In his poem, Hughes deploys a dual discourse in order to express the contradictory meanings of America and to enrich those meanings with a sense of the word's critical possibilities. In doing so, he constitutes multiple publics, projected readerships that correspond to real and diverse audiences over time. I inquire initially into the principles of a dialogic theory in which the American ideal opposes the public practice of the nation's democracy. And by then testing the theory against the historical and contemporary criticism on the Hughes radical poetry of the thirties, I situate the theory as a fresh way of reading the most recent two campaigns for the American presidency.

This document is currently not available here.