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Independence from bigotry (racism, crime, and prejudice), injustice, political freedom and isolation, immigrant challenges, poverty, and health issues are some of the main social issues that Americans have struggled against. Poetry as a medium for influencing agendas is as effective today as it has been in the past. The following poetry will be used to highlight a variety of social problems in the paper: Emma Lazarus's The Latest Colossus, Langston Hughes's When I Got Older, and Sylvia Plath's Ariel, As result, the paper employs poetry to examine three social issues: inequality, women's rights, and immigration. To begin with, Emma Lazarus’ poem delves on one of the most controversial issues in American history: Immigration. The poem elaborates the nature of immigration in America and challenges faced by new immigrants. Symbolism is presented by the use of The Statue of liberty in New York. Over 1 million immigrants who came to America before the first World War came through the Ward’s Island, an overlooking the iconic Statue of Liberty. Secondly, As I grew older by Langstone Hughes is a poem about racism and prejudice. To many, this is the biggest social issue in America’s history. In fact, it is still the most debated factor in the current American society. Hughes (6) explains racism by explaining how it crushes young people’s dreams. It is a narrative of how African Americans have relinquished their dreams due to pervasive discrimination because of their complexion. Ultimately, he aims at enlightening people on the need to fight against racism.
The third poem is Ariel by Sylvia Plath. This poem discusses one other biggest social issue: Women rights. The author uses figurative language, symbolism, metaphors and allegory in describing the need for women to rise and fight for modern domestication of women. She sees the post-war woman as an independent thinker. More so, she advocates for women to rise against objectification and slavery against societal demands and expectations.
The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus
The influence of the poem is emphasized by words inscribed on a plaque at the statue of liberty. For many, these words are proof of welcome to immigrants and refugees to the American challenging society. In fact, it is a depiction of ‘liberty” itself. The first stanza writes, “Not like the brazen giant of Greek Frame, with conquering limbs astride from land to land” (Lazarus 45) When the world’s possibly famous Sonnet was being written in the late 19th century, it barely caused a ripple (Gale 18). In fact, when she died in 1887, the poem was not even mentioned in her obituary. However, the significance of this poem on the American way of life cannot be emphasized enough (Lazarus 67). The poem has proved to be very powerful over the years because it not only changed the purpose of the Statue of liberty but also created a monumental republicanism shown in the American society.
The figurative language use includes the depiction of Statue of Liberty as a beacon for immigrants; which simply means a welcoming symbol to America. Emma Lazarus writes, “Give me your tired people, your poor, your hurdled masses yearning to breathe free” (Gale 24). Essentially, this poem narrates of the hardships faced by immigrants, especially in their home countries. Most of these immigrant moved to America to look for a better life. According to Paul Austere, The New Colossus reinvented the Statute of Liberty from just an iconic landmark into a welcoming mother and a symbol of hope to immigrants, who were considered as outcasts and downtrodden individuals from other parts of the world. The history of the statue dates back to the People of France. Completed in 1886, the Statue is an allegorical sculpture that personified abstract ideas (Gale 45). Emma’s poem pictures the Statue of Liberty as an image of justice. The Statue is constructed with a blindfolded woman holding scales in her right hand a sword on the other hand.
Emma Lazarus parents were Jewish immigrants during the refugee crisis in their countries. Therefore, the poem is seen to have been inspired by the challenges that her family went through during their immigration to America. In the 1880s, there was a flood of poor Jewish immigrants from Russia. She wrote the poem while she volunteered at the Hebrew Immigrant society, a non-governmental organization that aided newly arrived immigrants at Ward’s Island (Lazarus 56). In fact, at the time, over 1 million immigrants had come through the Island alone. The first structure that they spotted was The Statue of Liberty, thereby making it a symbol of liberation. Like the book states, “The Statute carried an ocean into the harbor, and, like so many millions others, given space and dignity and given space and dignity and function in New York” (Gale 34).
Emma Lazarus (1849-1887) was a famous American poet from New York City. She is best known for the poem described above, “The New Colossus.” In fact, its incredibleness made President Roosevelt to enter it in a collection located in New York City Museum, the same year he dedicated the statue. From an early age she studied literature as well several languages. She wrote important poems on immigration due her Jewish ancestry. She published more than 50 poems which featured most popular magazines. Her poem also elaborates the challenges of detention, deportation and death
As I grew Older by Langston Hughes
In Langston Hughes’ As I grew older, he starts with a pretty negative tone as he describes the walls that stand between him and his dreams. Essentially, Hughes represents the birth of a goal or a dreams as the poem progresses. However, in the second stanza, he states that as he grows older, his dream fades away due the mere fact that he has a dark skin. He states that the “white people make him almost give up on his dream until he realizes he cannot let them succeed (Hughes 20).” He then emphasizes that he would use his black hands to shatter the walls. Hughes Writes, “My dark hands, Break through the wall, help me shatter this darkness” (Monroe 17).
Racism and prejudice is considered one of the biggest social issue in both ancient and contemporary American society. The poem contains a narrative about minority communities, mostly African Americans, who have relinquished their dreams due to pervasive discrimination and persecution in the 20th and 21st century. In a bid to enlighten people about racism, he explicitly states the negative effects of prejudice and discrimination. Any form of racial oppression should be criticized and fought by people from all races. This poem aims to send a message that we should believe in ourselves and be able to stand up against the unjust society. Just like our forefathers, we should rise against any sort of discrimination.
The symbol of shadow in the poem is used to actualize the characters’ blackness and the barriers that keeps him away from his dreams. Racism creates inferiority complex and feeling of general meagerness, sometimes even marked by intense behaviors such as violence (Monroe 24). Therefore, the poem seeks to explore the effects of racism on a child or a person that has the drive to actualize their dreams. It explains that racism induces people with an inferiority strike that creates lack of confidence and even unequal opportunities in the society. Among other negative effects that children are likely to face includes exclusion, verbal abuse and bullying. Racial seclusion is also commonly presented through lack of recognition of cultural diversity and alienation of cultural practices.
The setup of this poem is based on the dreams of a young person faced by the challenges of achieving his dream due to oppression (Hughes 30). Hughes first writes that the walls rise up to touch the sky in a single line and then breaks up in the subsequent stanzas. From this perspective, he seeks to elaborate the unrealistic dream of freedom and equality. However, it is clear from the poem that he thinks the society will change and civil rights will prevail, only if we have the zeal to fight for it. In the last stanza, the poem states, “the darkness in the shadow created by the wall will grow taller but he would be able to break the darkness and let the lights in (Monroe 30).”
In the contemporary society, racism has led to structural inequities in all kinds of institutions. Public policies and social systems influenced by racism includes healthcare, education, child welfare, employment and even the criminal justice system. The bright side is that the constant uprisings by individuals of all races has led to more equity and equality; a theme that drives Hughes poem.
Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was an African-American poet, play-righter, novelist and social activist against social discrimination against black people. Facing discrimination throughout his life, he describes racism in the poem when he writes, “And then a wall rose, rose slowly, slowly between me and my dreams” (Hughes 30). His ideologies were driven by the need to change the society in order to enhance equality and social justice. He wrote a series of poems and novels and in this case, the poem analyzed is his famous poem, As I grew older.
Ariel by Sylvia Plath
One social issue common in the American society is the double standards that are wrongly imposed on women. Ariel is a poem created by Sylvia Path during her last months in 1963. This poem is a narrative of how women need to fight against social convention. It begins with a woman riding a horse in the countryside before dawn. The poem entails a series of ecstasy and personal transformation throughout its stanzas. The rider labelled as ‘God lioness” experiences the sensation of becoming one and the same with her horse (Plath 5). The plowed fields in which she rides soon vanished remaining elusive just like her brown neck that she cannot catch. Ariel refers to Sylvia Plath’s horse which embodies control and power. Feminism is depicted by her taking the role of both a female, male, horse as well as the rider. Also, the allusion of Lady Gzodiva suggest issues of feminism, evocation of sexual power and Sexual imagery.
The prompt of this poem is the need to fight against the traditional gender rules that women are required to fight against. The first stanza states, “Stasis in darkness, the substance less blue, pour of tor and distances” (Plath 45). The struggle is connoted by the first sentence “stasis in darkness.” It is characterized by hopelessness as a result of the stasis of the stereotypical role of women in the society. In the subsequent lines, she points in the subsequent lines that hope should not be given up as illustrated by, “blue pour of tor and distances” (Plath 50). Therefore, this provides a glimpse of a better future on the horizon for women rights.
Just like how the contemporary American Society advocates for women rights, Sylvia Path wrote her poem with an element of female anger and sexual voracity. Ariel strikes a blow to commercialized post war American domestication of women. Just like her other poem, Lady Lazarus, Ariel seeks to reduce the depiction of women as objects of pleasure or pain. This poem explores the demands and societal expectations of women. She advocates for the fight against women oppression because it often led to loss of sense and identity, especially when women bow down to societal demands and expectations.
Sylvia Path was An American Poetess born in 1932 and sadly committed suicide in 1963 after release of Ariel. In her later years she became a literature teacher at her college. Her literature portrays themes that fight against oppression of women in the patriarchal society. She was also married to British poet, Ted Hughes. Among her achievements includes her accolades on the novel bell Jar and the poems The Colossus and Ariel. More so, she was the first poet o win the prestigious Pulitzer Prize.
To conclude, the paper analyses the three poems: Ariel, The New Colossus and As I Grew Older. The poems are associated with three social issues namely, immigration, racism and women rights, respectively. The paper explores these topics exclusively and relates them to the identified topics. Among other issues explored includes the figurative language used and bibliographies of the author.
Gale, Cengage Leaarning. Poetry for Students: A Study Guide for Emma Lazarus's "the New Colossus.". Detroit: Gale, Cengage Learning, 2016. Print.
Hughes, Langston and Clausen, René As I Grew Older. Dayton, Ohio: Roger Dean Pub, 2009. Musical score.
Lazarus, Emma, and Valenti Angelo. The New Colossus. United States: Philip and Fanny Duschnes, 1949. Print.
Monroe, William.Trotter Institute Review. Boston, MA: Trotter Institute, University of Massachusetts at Boston, 1987. Print.
Plath, Sylvia. Ariel. Place of publication not identified: Faber & Faber, 2010. Internet resource.
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