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Tropic of Cancer

Tropic of Cancer

by Henry Miller

America

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

We're not going to dance around it: Henry really isn't a fan of America.

According to our guys, once a person has visited America, he becomes "contaminated by the cheap idealism of the Americans, contaminated by the ubiquitous bathtub, the five-and-ten-cent store bric-a-brac, the bustle, the efficiency, the machinery, the high wages, the free libraries, etc., etc." (7.41). In fact, Henry Miller (the author) held such a fascinated disgust for it that in 1945 he would write The Air-Conditioned Nightmare, a book of essays depicting America as a place of death and progress-worshipping, where artists are considered parasites. Not a rave review, to say the least.

Like his poet predecessor, Walt Whitman, Miller was deeply disappointed at what America had become. And, like other American expatriates, he fully believed that America was Hell and Paris was some kind of paradise.

An American in Paris

Now, Miller would be the first to admit that Americans abroad don't exactly have a firm grip on reality. They see things as they'd like them to be and romanticize Paris for their own ends—something he and his friends do all the time. But that doesn't mean he ever wants to leave. In fact, he says over and over again that he's staying put:

But I don't ask to go back to America, to be put in double harness again, to work the treadmill. No, I prefer to be a poor man in Europe. God knows I am poor enough; it only remains to be a man. (6.1)

Away from America, Henry feels like he's able to get a better perspective on life back there. But remember, as with so much of what Henry says, his thoughts on the U.S. of A are personal and subjective. He doesn't describe America as it is, necessarily, but as he sees it as an expatriate living in Paris.

Either way, though, his conclusion remains: "I never want to see [America] again" (1.54).

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