Dr. Anshen English 2304 American Literature|
Lisa M. Alvarado|
How Allen Ginsberg challenges America
Allen Ginsberg’s America is full of conversational monologues; he uses several literary and poetic devices to challenge several aspects of the American Society. His tone plays a main role in getting his perspective across to the audience. This poem is filled with cultural and political references as well as references to incidents and events in his own life and in the lives of his friends. Ginsberg challenges America based on the America it has the potential of becoming with a little hard work. He begins his work with such utter arrogance and cockiness and concludes with several aspects filled with concern and aspects on how to make a change. His cockiness is expressed with the word choice he uses. “Go fuck yourself with your atomic bomb. (5)” He clearly wants the war to end because he grows depressed with all the bloodshed and death around, and he is partly dissatisfied with the militarism of the country. He wants to stop the conversation before it even starts, by making excuses that he doesn't want to be bothered with such a conversation and proclaiming that he won't write until "I'm in my right mind" (7). But as he specified before, he will not ever be in his right mind. He cannot stand his mind. “America when will you be angelic?(8)”
There is repetition all over the entire poem; he glues all the lines together by starting some lines with a common word “America, America…... When, when…., I, I….” He also uses apostrophe, he directly addresses something non-human, and he speaks to “America” as if it were a person.
“America” free Tom Mooney
“America” save the Spanish loyalists
America Sacco & Vanzetti must not die
America I am the Scottsboro boys
This is all usage of allusion, in those lines he is referring to a person, event or place in history. He talks about how hypocritical and controversial America really is. Tom Moony was a labor leader sentenced to death for several killings in 1916, he was eventually pardoned. Spanish Loyalists were opponents of Franco’s in the Spanish Civil War. Sacco & Vanzetti were anarchists who were executed in for murder, The Scottsboro boys were nine African Americans falsely accused of raping two white women in Alabama. There is so much allusion in only four lines. Ginsberg uses a lot of parallelism by simply asking America questions, “America, when…” he begins 22 lines with America. He uses personification by giving America human qualities as if America could just simply answer his questions. America when will you be angelic?
When will you take off your clothes?
America cannot remove its clothing, much less provide him of an answer, because it is not a person in such he is undoubtedly using connotation because he is not using the direct meaning of the word, he means it like America when will you show your true colors and show us who you are on the inside.
In the first two lines World War II is clearly over and is about to jump into the cold war. Ginsberg speaks with cockiness as if he is on the outside looking in on America, perhaps as a civilian for another country and as if he is kind of ashamed to live in and be a part of this country. He speaks with a narcissistic point of view about his desires alcohol and sex.
In the second stanza he seems more involved. “I am America” he uses a cynical approach. He seems concerned and seems to start offering advice. “America you really don’t want go to war.” He states this because America has already been so much, America continues taking the lives of its male citizens by using them as soldiers for their wars, less and less come home every time and the wars at this point basically seem endless; one right after the other. He begins to compare America to his life and his own doings.
The only metaphoric line in the poem is “in the light of 500 suns”.
Everything he wrote in this poem really challenges America. Challenges it in such ways like it can honestly do better, and how he himself and others can help change it. In the last stanza he makes a final statement that is both a statement of his difference and a statement of his desire to work in the direction of a better America. "America I'm putting my queer shoulder to the wheel." Putting one's shoulder to the wheel is defined as an expression of hard work and labor. Yet this is differentiated by Ginsberg's use of the word “queer”, that word then symbolizes softness and an effeminate style. Ginsberg advocates that he will prove that even the weak, the outcasts, and the homosexuals will rise and be able to affect change. A prophesy that has been coming true over the years. This is the greatest American power of speech influence.