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    About a Dream Poem: America

    by , 06-14-2010 at 08:13 PM (12183 Views)
    This is a paper I wrote for my English class. Read the Poem, "America" by Tony Hoagland.

    English 100
    Dr. Mark Lawhorn
    Poem Analysis: “America” by Tony Hoagland
    In the poem, “America” by Tony Hoagland, the poet tells a story of an experience while teaching a class in the modern day United States. A student compares America to a prison. The poet in annoyed with the young man who presumably comes from middle class Suburbia. In the middle of the conversation, the poet recalls a dream about stabbing his father. The poet compares modern America to a nightmare of floating in a pleasure boat down a river full of drowning people.
    Overarching themes throughout the poem are consumerism, capitalism, and greed. The poem describe the poet’s journey as he goes through a mental and implied spiritual metamorphosis firstly getting annoyed with his student, wanting to tell him “how full of shit” he is, then recalling his dream, then recalling a quote by Karl Marx, “I was listening to cries of the past when I should have been listening to cries of the future,” and lastly empathizing with the student while imagining the metaphorical nightmare.
    Another main grouping of themes is dreams, nightmares, waking life, dream life, sleeping, and lucidity, specifically, being aware that one is dreaming. The people in the drowning in the river could be compared to the laborers in foreign countries manufacturing goods for America while living in squalor, or Americans unhappy because of misguided values. The “you” in the pleasure boat is The American, or America itself, or the ideal of consumerism. In the poet’s dream, money is clogging up the father’s heart. The poet is actually helping his father by stabbing him. In the dream poem, the father thanks his son, and says, “And so I perish happily, freed from that which kept me from my liberty.” So, again, we have the theme of captivity. The subtle metaphor of America is money comes to the forefront. The poem in the dream becomes a dream sign, something in a dream which makes the dreamer realize he is dreaming, and the poet becomes lucid, which is similar to waking up in a dream. The poet thinks, “I am asleep in America too, and I don’t know how to wake myself either.”
    Themes are paired with contrasting themes: older generation and younger, teacher and student, nightmares and dreams, communism and capitalism, anger and compassion, the material world, and the world of dreams. The young student bemoans the modern American consumer based value system, and as the teacher questions himself and learns, the student becomes the teacher. Marx’s quote “near the end of his life” implies Marx retrospectively thought communism was less than ideal. But, the poet wonders if capitalism is really so freeing as he questions if Marx would have imagined the modern American nightmare if Marx had been “listening to cries of the future.”
    In the last stanza the poet speaks of you turning the volume higher in the nightmare. This is obviously a reference to television or listening to a radio. The sound could either be you drowning out the cries of the future, the implied screams of the people dying in the river, or the screams of third world laborers themselves, as if we somehow take a perverse pleasure in the pain of others by passively purchasing goods which we know are manufactured by those suffering in poverty, and in doing so are exhibiting a kind of complacent sadism. “America” is a complex poem, with thought provoking ideas, and interesting themes cleverly threaded through the fabric of the piece.

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    Updated 06-14-2010 at 08:22 PM by 27486

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    1. Man of Shred's Avatar
      good stuff. I want you to give me some writing tips. you're pretty good at it.
    2. Baron Samedi's Avatar
      Thanks! Did you read the poem? I'd like to get a foreigner's perspective.