8 April 2019
There has always been a great debate on what America really stands for. If it is its own being or just a mesh of various cultures, a hybrid of a sort that has yet to identify itself. For decades after the founding of the country many authors were drawn to the forms of writing based on their European counterparts. This was because there were no American writers to which piggyback off. However soon many writers began to find their own voice and while not completely unique there were sparks that seemed to give America a voice. Soon after many great writers began to emerge, and different voices and platforms were provided but there was still an ever-present question, did America have an identity? The question still resonates today and there is a belief that due to its uniqueness everything that encompasses American literature hints at its reality. The American identity cannot be something completely defined. It is a sense of belonging and a pride that is unlike any other.
In Carl Sandburg’s “Chicago” and Langston Hughes “I, too” we deal with two of America’s most prolific writers. While they discuss different subject matters in the sense that one seems to focus on a city and the other on people, they both seem to go beyond and claim to know what the identity of the country consists of. They take all the criticism they have heard of this nation and are trying to revert that into a sense of pride. It is surmised that while they are not ignorant to these issues, they are well aware that before anything can be changed, it needs to first be addressed effectively. While these changes will need time to be defined as successful, both poets are absolutely sure that these issues will be confronted in a proficient way. “Chicago” and “I, too” are poems that not only discuss daily life in America but seek to highlight it and then further seek to define what the country is as a whole.
Firstly in “Chicago” Sandburg discusses how a large portion of the population views the city in a very negative light, while he loves and adore it. He goes on to admit that the city does have its share of evil, but it has a lot more to offer. It is the soul and heart of the great nation he lives in. He specifically admits that they due in fact have prostitutes, killers and starving families but so does every great city in America. In fact, if it were not for the title this could have been viewed as any other major city in this era. Of course, Chicago has a specific place in his heart and goes on to make sure that it is apparent that this is the city he is discussing. After the city became known by some of the language he uses but was not the case prior. “Sandburg wrote for the masses, in a plainspoken language that readers would understand. The dazzling styles of Sandburg’s modernist peers, in contrast, were often difficult, allusive, or opaque. Sandburg forged an accessible modernism that was partly informed by his leftist political impulses. He not only wanted to write about the working classes, but he also wanted to be read by them” (Olson). So, in a broader sense Chicago symbolizes the United States. While a relatively new country the United Sates has been characterized as a country in constant growth. It is constantly building and expanding, life is rarely ever dull within this country. It has its share of problems, but nowhere will you find prouder people of all sorts and walks of life.
In “I, too” Langston Hughes seems to focus within the context of a house which symbolizes the country. “Hughes conveys a message of black resilience through tone, repetition and metaphor. He speaks directly to an audience in his opening lines. ” I, Too, Sing America. I am the darker brother.” By positioning America as an interlocutor, Hughes separates himself from his audience, forcing us to question both the speaker’s identity and America’s.” (McCormick 20) He goes on to say that it requires a lot of people to maintain the house and that while you like to show it off when it is clean, there is a lack of transparency on how this cleanliness was achieved. He knows that we are still in the early stages of development as a country and although equality was something that should have been achieved much sooner, it will come one day. As a people, the African Americans have so much to offer that he states that one day people will remember in shame. Likewise, the United States has been a beacon of light for other countries. While there have been cases where it has gone beyond help and have overreached, without the United States it would have been a much darker world. As mentioned no one person or country can be perfect every single time, but the resilience and pride will remain.
Ultimately both poems deal in the inner and outer appearance of the United States. One is embodied by the City of Chicago and the other by the house one inhabits. They both have good and bad, but there is constant progress being made in these fronts. As a people and as a country, they are defined by the will to overcome any obstacle. America will defeat any enemy that gets in its way even when sometimes it is its own people that are hindering it. In times of turmoil it has been proven that the people of this nation will do what is right. It may require time and a key political figure but once we obtain the necessary movement, there is nothing that can slow it down. Sometimes these movement will go array and head in the opposite direction but eventually they are put back on course. That is something this country is famous for, the refusal to stay stagnant. There is a course of action even when it is sometimes erroneous but there is never a sense of apathy. This is a constant, which contradicts the previous notion but as a country it is evident that there is always room for improvement.
Sandburg and Hughes implement different writing techniques to portray their vision of America, but it cannot be disputed that they were proud of their country. In a sense both authors called for action, to not let other people’s perspective dampen or limit your nation. It is a certainty that no one place can be deemed perfect because they are man-made, and man is flawed. There is also no use of complex language, but the meaning is one that makes the reader think and assess. It is for the people and their sheer tenacity for life is a trademark. The United States has been formed just by that tenacity and self-love of its citizens. One does not need the approval of another but if one work hard that approval will come regardless if one seeks it or not. Pride in one’s country has always been seen as a patriotic but when one loves his country when it has been anything but loving to its citizens, it is irreproachable and what these poets deserve. As mentioned it is easy to love when everything goes well, but true love is apparent when everything is falling apart.
McCormick, Jennifer. “Reading Langston Hughes.” California English, vol. 15, no. 5, June 2010, pp. 20-23. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=50881507&site=ehost-live.
Hughes, Langston. “I, Too.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. edited by Robert S. Levine, Baym, and Nina, 2013, pp. 1039.
Sandburg, Carl. “Chicago.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. edited by Robert S. Levine, Baym, and Nina, 2013, pp. 764
Olson, Liesl. “Carl Sandburg’s Chicago: Stormy, Husky, Brawling at 100.” Los Angeles Review of Books, lareviewofbooks.org/article/carl-sandburgs-chicago-stormy-husky-brawling-at- 100/#!