Theme for English B
Theme for English B Visions of America Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Line)
[…] But I guess I'm what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York, too.) Me—who? (17-20)
This is more than a vision of America—it's the sounds and feelings of America, particularly New York City. Our speaker says that he feels like he's in conversation with his surroundings, involved in the sights and sounds of Harlem as the sights and sounds of Harlem are involved in him. He feels Harlem, sees it, hears it, and he knows it feels him, too. This relationship with his environment may not be particular to America, but New York is a great American city, the first stopping-off point for many immigrants, and an essential part of the American dream for many people.
You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That's American. (31-33)
Here, the speaker comes straight out and lets us know that he's talking about American culture. This section says, yes, the races might not get along, and there may be tension around every corner, but hey, we're American, and thus, are involved in each other's lives and cultures. After all, America is known as "The Melting Pot": a country of immigrants, with cultures from around the world mixing together. Yet, there's also an alternative expression—that America is a "tossed salad," or a country of many cultures that remain their own distinct traits and societies. How do you think these two visions of America relate to the America of this poem?
Although you're older—and white—
and somewhat more free. (39-40)
As vibrant and thriving and full of sounds and life and truth and sharing as America seems in this poem, not all is well in the land of the brave and home of the free. In fact, these lines point out, the truth of the matter is that some Americans are more free than others. This was especially true when this poem was published in the 1950s, and black people were still segregated and systematically discriminated against by white citizens and the white government. Its founders foreswore that all men were created equal and that every man has rights, so America, especially in the '50s, was not a leader in equality, but a leader in hypocrisy.