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Literature Assignment Analyzing Ginsberg’s representations of America



“It occurs to me that I am America./I am talking to myself again.” (“America”, 23)

“What sphinx of cement and aluminium bashed open their skulls/and ate up their brains and imagination?/Moloch!” (“Howl”, 8)

“I walked on the banks of the tincan banana dock and sat down under the huge shade of a Southern Pacific locomotive to look at the sunset over the box house hills and cry.” (“Sunflower Sutra”, 19)

In this literature assignment, analyze Ginsberg’s representations of America in two poems that we have studied this semester. You might want to consider how the speaker portrays America and how Americans relate to their country. In your response you must engage with relevant ideas from the Bennett and Royle chapter on “Ideology”.


The topic chosen for this literature assignment is Ginsberg And America, intending to analyze the representation of America by Ginsberg, based on his two famous poems America, and Sunflower Sutra. Alen Ginsberg was one the most acclaimed and renowned American poets in course of this generation. Born on June 3, 1926, in New Jersey, he was raised in Paterson and studied at Columbia University. With the publication of Howl and Other Poem in the year 1956, Ginsberg got public attention, and hence wrote many other poems following the tradition of Walt Whitman, against disparaging and foul society. In this assessment, further analyses have been made, considering the portrayal of America by the poet, and the relation of Americans towards their nation. In response to the analysis, some relevant ideas from the Bennett and Royale chapter on Ideology have been engaged to present a better view of the poem analysis, concerning Ginsberg and America.

Analysis of two poems
The poem America was written in the year 1956, included in the original publication of Howl and Other Poems, and became one of the most read literary speeches of political turbulence during post-world war ii in the United States. The theme of this poem is generally based on the wars, foreign policies, and a persistent portrayal of national racial turbulence, and struggle against communism, characterizing the position of foreign policy during the cold war, in the second half of the 20th century. In this poem, Ginsberg has portrayed the cultural poverty, and culture of suppression and coercion of the time, where it was hard for the people to live as themselves in such culture. The racial and dominating political system of America has been presented in the poem, where the poet seems dissatisfied even with the militarism of the nation, where the country has forgotten its promise, offered to the migrants and the citizen, asking when the nation will remember and realize the great promise (Mambrol). As per the poet, America has lost over the potential of salvation, the political oppression has grown in such a massive way that no one has the potential and right to free information, and free expression, and hence beautifully executed in his statement, how the library is laminating with “full of tears” (12). Though there has been racial and political oppression, there was still hope and optimism, among the Americans, towards justice, liberation, tolerance, and acceptance, as Americans loved their country so much, that they don't want to give up their obsession with making a better nation. Based on the theme of reconciliation, the poet, as well as the Americans believes that there are some better ways to settle the turbulences, going on in the nation during that time. Here, the feeling of patriotism has been highlighted, as, despite the several facts, such as discrimination, oppression, political and cultural unjust, and so on, the Americans are willing to have patience, and desire to struggle for better days, as well as a positive change in the nation (Soapboxie). On the other hand, some fellow Americans, who are on supremacy, are continuously torturing the people under the potential of salvation, and for their benefit, even though they are Americans too. Analyzing this poem, both the positive and negative aspects of America and Americans have been portrayed, which makes a continuous rebel against each other in seek of justice and harmony. Offering the themes of warning to the nation, the question is being asked to America, whether it is being ‘sinister’ or just making some practical jokes towards the citizens, and stated that "everyday somebody foes on a murder trial" (27-28). The lamination over the increasing violence and the threat of violence in American culture has been executed, which made all the Americans suffer terribly at that time. In line 29, referring to Wobblies, it has been stated that, all the workers should stand unanimously against the prejudice, that exists in the culture of America, criticizing them for their extreme torture. Not only the focus has been made over the political system of the time, but the poet has also portrayed the media of America, criticizing for unprofessional conduct over the time. Lashing out all the hatred, raised due to the social prejudice of the time, however, the poet does not seem to be guilty, in terms of the thoughts and philosophy, presented over the nation, which seems unjust at the time, though ended with a glimpse of hope for better tomorrow (Cooley).

Sunflower Sutra, another renowned poem of Ginsberg was written in the year 1955, representing many themes with an overarching message of the desolate landscape of America, devastated and ruined by the careless acts of modern society. With the use of the word Sutra, which is a Buddhist form of literature, the poet has presented a deep and sad truth, in the form of wit and humour. In this poem, the sunflower has portrayed throughout the poem, representing the tarnished and battered form of America, but with the optimist hope towards the ability of the nation, which is to be converted into a beautiful nation once again. Starting with the lamination, the poet presents the loss of the beauty of the nation in all aspects with the end of the American Borderline, due to the rise of modern trade and viable society. Presenting the scenario of a beautiful sunset, being demised by the growth of urbanization, makes the poet sad (Blogs.cofc). With the use of the varied images, the poet creates the concept of how the beauty of the nation is being eroded consistently, and hence not observes by, depicts the sad feelings of the poet. In contrast to his poem America, the same Americans, who were ready to struggle with all the prejudice, carrying hope for the positive change, are now no more aware of the loss of beauty of the nation, one more time. America has been presented losing its glory once again over the rapid growth of industrialization, executing the industrial waste, which seems to contaminate the river water, making it ugly and difficult for the water creatures to survive. Ginsberg along with his companion Jack Kerouac, both witness the loss of the glory of the nation, and lament over it (Singh). Hence, much natural imagery has been used throughout the poem, to depict the industrial blight, showcasing the hatred towards bum, which was the society, which he hates for all the reasons. The sunflower has been presented in both the pleasure and horrific way, because when the poet was asked to look at those beautiful flowers in the blighted landscape, the poet gets to see the sight of both beauty and horror at the same time, representing the pollution and corruption (11-14). As per the poet, the sunflower though looked beautiful, but carries the weariness and pollution of the environment, yet relates the hardship in such situation, as preserved in the face. Describing the isolated scene of the poet and his friend, the poet refers to the humans as locomotives, living in waste and destruction of America, with the use of crude sexual images and some vivid pictures to wrap and showcase the picture of the American landscape of lecherous suppression.


Considering the chapter Ideology of Bennett and Royale, they cope that literature imitates the structure of ideology, at the same time encourage subjects to interrogate individual identity(Francis). As per them, subjects and people made their ideology, wherein they are made subject by ideology (Bennett and Royale 202). In both the poem America and Sunflower Sutra, the question is being asked by the entity, towards the integration of the nation, and the question towards the political, social, and cultural aspects of America. Highly illustrating the poverty, racial discrimination, political, social, and cultural unjust of the nation, at the existing period, different ideologies have been created for both the subject and the people. Portraying the darkest side of the nation, the poet points out those aspects, which made it the people difficult to survive in the existing society, where the people and the country are both being devastated, with the continuous threat of violence. Relating the Americans to the nation, the poet also has presented how the people are still hopping, and struggling for a better tomorrow, showcasing both the optimist and pessimist nature of Americans. Both America and Americans have been subject to the ideology of the poem, as they both are interrelated, and their positive and negative aspects have been highlighted throughout the poem (Bennett).

Literature is considered as the mirror of society, and hence the society of that period has been presented beautifully by the poet in these poems. The way, the poet sees the nation and its people being reckless, shows how humankind can be careless and selfish, just to fulfil the personal need, and hoe the unjust, discrimination, and violence arises in the nation. The consequences of all these negative aspects of the society are highly effective towards the poor people, penetrating the peace of their life, but still, Americans, though some of them are responsible for all these negative causes, some are an optimist and living with the expectation of better future.

Works Cited
Bennett, Andrew. "Meaning And Exemplarity In Poetics And Literary Theory". Philosophy And Literature, vol 44, no. 1, 2020, pp. 140-157. Project Muse, doi:10.1353/phl.2020.0009. Accessed 11 June 2021. and_Nicholas_Royle

Blogs.cofc. "Ginsberg’S Sunflowers | The Walt Whitman Blog / Transnational Poetry". Blogs.Cofc.Edu, 2021, Accessed 11 June 2021.

Cooley, Crisman. "Recorded Lines From "America": A New Poetic Analysis". Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, vol 31, no. 4, 2014, pp. 163-168. University Of Iowa Libraries, doi:10.13008/0737-0679.2123. Accessed 11 June 2021.

Francis, Taylor and. "Ideology | Taylor & Francis Group". Taylor & Francis, 2021, Accessed 11 June 2021.

Mambrol, Nasrullah. "Analysis Of Allen Ginsberg’S Poems". Literary Theory And Criticism, 2021, Accessed 11 June 2021.

Singh, Shivpreet. "Sunflower Sutra By Allen Ginsberg - A More Realistic Version Of The Lotus Sutra". Shivpreet Singh, 2021, Accessed 11 June 2021.

Soapboxie. "Analysis Of "America" By Allen Ginsberg". Soapboxie, 2021, Accessed 11 June 2021.


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