by Allen Ginsberg
Ginsberg, like a lot of the Beats, drew heavily on personal experience when writing. More than a lot of poets, it's a safe bet to link Allen Ginsberg the person with the speaker in many of his poems. We said it's a safe bet, not a sure bet, though. In either case, in reading "America," we get a very clear sense of who this person is: a committed, if conflicted, communist.
Let's tackle those categories in reverse order, shall we?
It's clear where our speaker's political affiliations lie. He reads Marx. He feels nostalgic for labor activists. He even remembers going as a kid with his mother to communist meetings and describes it as if it were Disneyland: "the speeches were free everybody was angelic and sentimental about the workers it was all so sincere you have no idea what a good thing the party was" (61).
So, one of the main arguments the speaker carries on with America through this poem is its suppression of communist ideas (the importance of the workers, the corrupting nature of material wealth). Still, he's…
The speaker just can't escape that fact that, no matter how he wishes America would change its ways, he, too, is an undeniable part of America. If that's the case then, that means that he must also shoulder at least some of the blame for what has gone wrong in his country: "It occurs to me that I am America. / I am talking to myself again" (45-46).
Just as he hates Time magazine, yet can't stop reading it, the speaker is stuck in a bind here. He wants desperately to change the country in which he lives. Perhaps though, he must change himself along with it. If that's what it takes, we feel confident in the outcome, because this guy is…
Of course, the speaker tells us this straight-up in the very inspiring final line of the poem: "America I'm putting my queer shoulder to the wheel" (73). More than this line, though, the speaker has demonstrated his commitment with the 72 previous lines. He admits that he was inspired, at one point, by the ideals that America represented to him: "You made me want to be a saint" (18).
Even now, though things have changed, the speaker tells us, "I refuse to give up my obsession" (23). He's got a vision of what he would like to see in his country, and, by hook or by crook (or in this case, by book), he's going to see it through. This is a major reason why, after reading in this poem about what the speaker sees as all the terrible things that America does wrong, we can't help but leave "America" with an optimistic spring in our step. Thanks, speaker!