Allen Ginsberg's America
In Allen Ginsberg’s “America,” the speaker angrily blasts America in a one-sided argument. In this poem America is personified and is addressed by the speaker as if it were human. After calling himself America the speaker asks several rhetorical questions that make the reader think about America’s ethical and moral values while questioning its goals and ambitions. In essence, the speaker presents to the reader those unanswerable questions that neither himself nor him as America are able to answer.
Ginsberg starts this poem with the speaker declaring that he has given America everything and has not received anything in return. The first line signifies the speaker’s intimacy with America. One will only voluntarily give up everything to another if the other is someone close, important, and special to them. The diction of the first line confirms that the speaker is referring to a voluntary submission (“I’ve given you all” instead of ‘you’ve taken everything from me’ or ‘stolen from me’ etc). This distinction is important because it establishes the angry tone of the speaker in the poem. The speaker has some expectations that America does not meet and that is why he questions America about all those issues that anger him (line 1).
In the first question, “When will we end the human war?” Ginsberg very quickly establishes the speaker’s tone and attitude while maintaining the notion of an intimate relationship between America and himself connoted by the word “we” in the verse. At the conclusion of the previous verse, “I can’t stand my own mind,” a sudden outburst of anger and a barrage of questions shock the reader. The poem seems to be moving at a fast pace much like an argument between two people in real life, continuous and non-stop, where one person is angry with another who does not want to hear anything but just wants to be heard (lines 1-4). Therefore, in the very beginning, Ginsberg presents to the reader the subject and tone of the poem in the context of this question. Ginsberg’s questions make the audience realize the seriousness of the issues that this poem discusess, such as America, politics, war, humanity, and ethics.
In his second question, “America when will you be angelic?” the speaker asks America to be like an angel. The reference to angels can also be taken as a religious symbol or a symbol of peace and purity. This question is posed because the speaker believes that America is not pure and has no religious values or beliefs and therefore, needs to become pure and pious, hence angelic. Ginsberg’s diction in this verse also demonstrates the speaker’s frustration as if he has been waiting for America to “be angelic” and has been disappointed. Disappointment seems to be the cause of anger displayed by the speaker throughout the poem.
All the questions are connected by, and in reference to, a single theme, that is, the consequences of war. The connotation of the first question “When...