Study Guide

America Money

By Allen Ginsberg

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It makes the world go 'round, of course, and Allen Ginsberg's "America" is really no exception. Still, Ginsberg's speaker wants to know if that's really how it should be. Time and again, he brings up issues of money as a symptom of what's wrong with the country. It cheapens art and brings out the very worst in human beings. After reading the poem in its entirety, we get the feeling that the speaker will soon be getting to work on some serious financial reforms.

  • Line 2: One reading of this line is that the speaker only has "two dollars and twenty-seven cents" left to his name. From the very start, we understand that he's on the bottom rung of the economic ladder, looking up. He puts his chips on the table (not many chips, mind you), which emphasizes his position as both a social and economic outsider, looking in on the country that he's about to critique.
  • Line 15: The speaker wants to buy groceries with "[his] looks." While this is on one level a joke, on a deeper level it suggests that physical beauty in American society often translates to economic advantage. Is that fair?
  • Line 44: Time magazine has something to say to our speaker: "It's always telling me about responsibility. Businessmen are serious." One of the problems that the speaker has with Time (even though he admits to reading it voluntarily) is that it forces him to be serious, like a businessman. In other words, he's got to chase that dollar, or else he's just not living right. Once again, how someone relates to money seems to define their standing in American society. (The idea that a magazine might nag you in this fashion is personification.)
  • Line 61: The speaker recounts a childhood memory in which, at communist meetings, "they sold us garbanzos a handful per ticket a ticket costs a nickel and the speeches were free." Yup, those were the days. The speaker is nostalgic for the community provided by the meetings, in which money was not an issue for the attendees.
  • Line 56: Psst. Wanna buy a strophe? The speaker has a deal for ya: "America I will sell you strophes $2500 apiece $500 down on your old strophe." With this metaphor, the speaker is poking fun by suggesting that a bit of a poem might be sold the same way a used car is. Of course, poems are far more valuable to this speaker than cars are, but the joke is that American society sees it in exactly the opposite way. We mean, who would ever put a down payment on a poem? Given all the great ideas that can be found in one, though, we think it'd be way worth it.
  • Line 71: What's the big threat posed by Russia? "She wants to take our cars from out our garages." Nooooo! Not our AMC Pacer! What's significant here is that the speaker is framing the abstract, political debate at the heart of the Cold War as really just a selfish bid to keep Americans' possessions for themselves. Was it that people really cared so much about vague political ideals, or did they just want to make sure that they had as much "stuff" and money as possible?

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