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America

America

by Allen Ginsberg

Stanza 3 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 47-48

Asia is rising against me.
I haven't got a chinaman's chance.

  • So, if the speaker considers himself America (45), then Asia is rising against him personally. In other words, the rise of Asia—the growth of economic and military power in that part of the world, which began in the rebuilding years after World War II—is not just an abstract political threat to a country. It's a threat to the speaker himself.
  • The speaker says he hasn't got a "chinaman's chance," which is a—let's face it—racist expression that was used in the wayback days when something seemed impossible.
  • In this case, the speaker suggests that it will be impossible to overcome the rise of Asia, which includes China. This line, then, is a play on words, or a pun.
  • Do we think that the speaker is really worried about Asia here? Or does his joke show that he's really not that concerned?
  • Another question to think about: if the speaker is seeing himself as America, does that mean he's somehow feeling closer to the country now? As in he's now saying, oh yeah, Asia is kind of a big deal. Maybe we should do something about it.

Line 49-50

I'd better consider my national resources.
My national resources consist of two joints of marijuana millions of genitals
an unpublishable private literature that goes 1400 miles an hour and
twentyfivethousand mental institutions.

  • The speaker once again treats himself like an actual country. In doing so, he blurs the line between his individual self and the country he belongs to.
  • And what's the first thing you do when you're a country and another country is rising in power and wealth? Evaluate your state of affairs, of course.
  • Let's check out his inventory of "resources":
  • "Two joints of marijuana." Since we've already heard about this speaker's drug use, we can put these down as his own personal possessions.
  • "Millions of genitals." Okay… well, we're guessing that the speaker has just one set of genitals. Think about it though, a country literally does have millions of genitals (the genitals of its citizens). So, in this way, the speaker is shifting from his personal possessions to what might be found in his country.
  • "An unpublishable private literature that goes 1400 miles an hour." We're back to private possessions of an individual. This work is unpublishable, which makes it even more private. It's pretty cool stuff, though, since it can break land-speed records. What kind of literature can do that kind of radical thing? Something with incredible energy, that's what.
  • "Twentyfivethousand mental institutions." These would be more national resources. Is a mental institution a resource, though? What does it say about a country if it needs so many facilities to treat people who don't fit the popular notion of sanity? After a point, might we need to change how we define sane and insane, perhaps.
  • The speaker goes back and forth between his own possessions and his country's possessions here in a way that makes us ask: Where does the speaker stop and his country begin? Can we really draw a line between the nation and the individual?

Line 51

I say nothing about my prisons nor the millions of underprivileged who live in
my flowerpots under the light of five hundred suns.

  • Did he mention prisons? Guess the speaker forgot those in his inventory. We're guessing he feels the same way about these as he does the mental institutions.
  • What about the nation's "millions of underprivileged"? The speaker says that they're in the nation's (and his) flowerpots, which seems like a pretty fixed, unmoving position to be in.
  • To suggest that underprivileged people are flowers is to give them a kind of beauty by using a metaphor. How are these flowers being treated? If you were a flower, would you want five hundred suns shining down on you, or just one? Can too many suns create a stifling environment, in the same way that being underprivileged might?

Line 52

I have abolished the whorehouses of France, Tangiers is the next to go.

  • Now the speaker shifts his focus overseas.
  • This "I" (America again) has done away with French "whorehouses" and Tangiers is next. America seems to be throwing its weight around in other countries, trying to enforce its own code of moral conduct. Or at least, the speaker's America is.

Line 53

My ambition is to be President despite the fact that I'm a Catholic.

  • The speaker's got big plans!
  • Historical note: In 1960, just four years after the date we get in line 2, John F. Kennedy became the first Catholic to be elected president. We're thinking he was on the speaker's mind, even though the election was some way off.
  • Do you think the speaker's being serious here, though? Ginsberg definitely wasn't a Catholic, and though he was political, he never ran for office.
  • It's more likely the case that, like Kennedy, the speaker simply aspires to greatness, even though he's clearly an outsider in the eyes of mainstream America.

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