Published 17 Feb 2017
“America” by Allen Ginsberg
Allen Ginsberg wrote the poem, “America” (1956), in a time when beat poetry was popular. Readers clearly see the beat style reflecting in this poem, with its conversational style, honest tone, and spontaneity. Ginsberg incorporates in the poem a stream of consciousness feel, as if the persona is having a monologue. This confuses the reader:
You should have seen me reading Marx.
My psychoanalyst thinks I’m perfectly right.
I won’t say the Lord’s Prayer.
I have mystical visions and cosmic vibrations.
This confusion is essential in giving readers a sense of how “America” came to the poet in thought. The poem appeals to the readers because they feel as though they are inside Ginsberg’s mind. Moreover, it is clear to the readers that Ginsberg personifies America in the way the persona either speaks about or to America. Here, Ginsberg comments on what America does to its people and to itself through the flawed and unpopular decisions it makes. For example, Ginsberg expresses the collective horror of the threat of wars. Also, the poet elaborates on his observation that America was being run by the media:
Overall, Ginsberg gives voice to the American masses who were at the time often unheard and isolated from the mainstream society. The confrontational tone in the poem, was effective in achieving a cultural revolution through literary expression. ‘America’ is not a record of Ginsberg’s best and happiest moments, instead, it is a record of his ill experiences and miserable observations of his homeland. The poet perceives the shortcomings of the American government and society and then he expresses them:
America this is quite serious.
America this is the impression I get from looking in the television set.
America is this correct?
“Let America be America Again” by Langston Hughes
In “Let America Be America Again” (1938), Langston Hughes tackles how America should be what it should be, In other words, everybody in America should be equal because they all contributed to shape the country to its current form and what it will be in the future. Hughes speaks of how he saw America not America to him. In addition, the poet talks of how people discriminate in America and then he says that whoever made America should make it what it is supposed to be.
In this poem, Hughes illustrates a stunning portrait of a disheartened America in the 1930’s. To a lot of Americans, the American Dream idealism had run away from then, and despair had filled this emptiness. In Hughes’ poetic expression, the persona voices out the unsung Americans’ fear of how the country is not turning out to be what it was intended to be by their forefathers. In this poem, the speaker also verses these people’s concern of how America had turned out to be and could hope to be again.
Hughes uses a conversational style “Let America Be America Again”, allowing for an interaction between the speaker and listener. This interaction is seen through the use of line such as “(America never was America to me)” and “(There’s never been equality for me,Nor freedom in this ‘homeland of the free.”)”. The speaker starts in the usual quatrain stanza. The stanzas then become irregular, however, when the listener begins to respond. This indicates the strong emotion felt as well as the importance of the poem’s message. The listener’s replies contain the major idea of the poet’s work, comparing and contrasting the democratic ideal to the real conditions of those who suffer because of age, gender, race, or socio-economic status. This poem expresses the hopelessness of these people, which causes the lowering of their aspirations and contributed to the problems of depression in the 1930’s. What Hughes wants to convey in this poem is that America is not the democratic ideal of all Americans.
“Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
In the futuristic fiction, “Harrison Bergeron” (1961), Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. describes a frightening picture of a future of the American society, where everyone is equal through the 211th, 212th, and 213th Constitutional Amendments. The Handicapper General agents enforce the equality laws in the future America. Here is how the narrator presents the equality in this utopia:
The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was any smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else.
This fiction satirizes the obsession with equalizing, and it seems to the readers that the theme of Vonnegut’s satire is that attempts to obtain equality in the society are absurd. The absurd future utopia presented in the story can be seen as representative of egalitarianism. However, the object of the author’s satirical commentary is not all leveling process that might take place. Instead, the object of Vonnegut’s short story is the widespread misunderstanding of what equality and leveling necessitate. In particular, this fiction satirizes the Cold War misunderstanding of socialism, not just communism.
Furthermore, the narrator in the story starts with the popular contention that the United States not only does and can know God’s law, but that this favorite country of God is instituting it. Hence the definition of America’s equality in “Harrison Bergeron” starts not by speculating a future egalitarianism as much as revealing the confusion of it in the past and present. “Harrison Bergeron” progresses to provide not a possible equality of the future society, but instead an endorsement of how ridiculous society would be if equality were what the dominant culture in America thinks it is.
“The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin
“The Story of an Hour” (1894) by Kate Chopin tells the story Mrs. Mallard, who is suffering from a heart problem. This short story covers about an hour in her life. Bad news has reached Mrs. Mallard about the death of her husband. Josephine, her sister, and Richard, Mrs. Mallard’s husband’s friend, have to relay the tragic news to her as smoothly as possible. Josephine and Richard are very much concerned that the bad news might somehow jeopardize Mrs. Mallard’s health. To their surprise, the lady reacts to the horrifying news with utmost excitement. Although the news of her husband’s death is certainly heartbreaking, Mrs. Mallard is at last free from the miserable life she was living with her husband. She keeps on saying “Free! Body and soul free!”. Mrs. Mallard is now happy because she only has to live for herself now, unlike before when she was living for anyone.
Her fancy was running riot along those days ahead of her. Spring days, and summer days, and all sorts of days that would be her own. She breathed a quick prayer that life might be long.
In the end, however, Mrs. Mallard’s husband was not killed in the train accident after all. Concerned with Mrs. Mallard’s heart problem, Richard attempted to block Mr. Mallard’s view of his wife. It is too late, however. Mrs. Mallard died of a heart disease. Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour” ends with a short phrase “of the joy that kills”.
The story presents many forms of oppression. Not only does Mrs. Mallard endure in her marital and medical problems, she also poses a threat to herself. This threat is especially noticeable, since all actions center on her preservation. Everything is arranged to save her from any distress. Her husband’s return symbolizes the return of Mrs. Millard’s oppressive situation and ensures that she will experience no more than a passing change in her condition. It is this unchanging situation, i.e. the preservation of oppressive condition, that proves Mrs. Mallard’s circumstance is fatal to herself.
“Shall I Compare Thee To A Summers Day” by William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare’s “Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day” is about the speaker describing a person. It is obvious that the speaker is describing a lover because the poem uses language more generally associated with the concept of love. The sonnet starts with a rhetorical question, which is answered in the following line: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? / Thou art more lovely and more temperate”. In these first two lines, the speaker compares the person that he loves to summer, establishing his strong feeling for that person. It is during summer when “Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May”, the weather is warm, trees are full of leaves, the flowers are blooming, and summer time is usually thought of as one of the more pleasant times during the year.
In this sonnet, Shakespeare introduces an unchanging beauty – compared to summer – which pales in comparison to the beauty of the youth. The speaker is seemingly saying to the person that: “You are far more beautiful, warmer, and more loving than the summer.” The speaker also seems to say that the person he is speaking about is nicer and more temperate. The poet provides a sight of the youth’s beauty, and the readers are to be left in admiration of someone so unquestionably beautiful. The youth’s beauty is frozen in the words of Shakespeare and the framework of his sonnet, and is celebrated as it is imprinted in the lines of appreciation.
“Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day” is one of Shakespeare’s most well-known and celebrated sonnets, and arguably one of his finest and loveliest poems. His use of the interplay between love, beauty, time, and nature is brilliant and timeless. In addition Shakespeare is suggesting the power of written words in preserving beauty. One can read the poem’s last two lines as suggesting that the person will be kept young forever because this poem will never die. This person’s youth and beauty will be kept forever “So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, / So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”