167 Discussion Questions for The New Colossus

Emma Lazarus’ poem The New Colossus is a piece of literature which represents what many believe to be the “American Dream” and what the United States represents. The United States has traditionally been seen as a place of freedom in which those who are oppressed, without rights, or in search of a better life can go and be welcomed. A place where people can escape suppression and through hard work can justly create the life which they want for themselves and their families. The New Colossus recognizes the fact that the colonized Americas are made up of immigrants and states that it will continue to sympathize with newcomers who are attempting to attain the lives which present U.S. citizens or their ancestors had immigrated for. It promises a home that will remain a free state of opportunity for anyone who is willing to work for it. The United States has been seen as a beacon for where people can live in harmony with their differences in lineage, class, religion and culture. A nation free of persecution.

Why do you think that the aspirations expressed in “The New Colossus” have made their way into the common American narrative? Do you believe that the United States has a responsibility to live up to ideals espoused in a poem? Why?

While the United States has traditionally been seen as a place containing all of this ideology, why has this only been true to some groups of people here? What examples of this hypocrisy have there been in U.S. history?

Taking into consideration the principals which the United States were founded on, why do you believe that the views of many U.S. citizens today remain unwavering in their negative opinions of immigrants and groups of people whom are different than themselves?

There are many present day examples of how the view of the immigrant in the United States has been dehumanized and warped. From increasing the difficulty to immigrate to the United States, negative speech about immigrants from elected officials, to bans on specific groups of people being put in place. Why has this rhetoric come to the forefront more recently? Was it always there and was just unrecognized by the mainstream population?

In Emma Lazarus’ poem, she speaks of bringing to the U.S. those who are yearning to be free and those without a home. A group of people whom this specifically reflects are the Jewish. They have historically been persecuted, hunted and chased from their homes. This makes them a nearly perfect example of the types of people that the United States is supposed to be a safe haven for. With this in mind, why does there continue to be antisemitism and attacks on Jewish citizens in the United States today? Think the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue shooting.

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Discussion Questions for The New Colossus by Timothy Robbins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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