Study Guide

America Society and Class

By Allen Ginsberg

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Society and Class

America two dollars and twenty-seven cents January 17, 1956. (2)

Early on in the poem, the speaker lets us know in which class he sits—namely, the lower one. While it's not entirely clear from this stream-of-consciousness line, we think it's a safe bet to read that $2.27 as the last remaining cash that the speaker has on him. He finds himself at the bottom of the American barrel, and he doesn't like what he sees when he looks up.

When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks? (15)

At first, this seems like another of the speaker's snide, funny remarks that he peppers the poem with. If you think about it, though, there's a disturbing kernel of truth to this question. While good looks may not guarantee you a six-figure salary (Take it from us! Ahem… ), isn't it much easier to get along in America if you're a good looking person who fits into the standard idea of beauty? You might get the door held open for you. You might get that job you're interviewing for. You probably won't get free food at the supermarket, though, Shmoopers, so don't try it.

You should have seen me reading Marx. (33)

With this line, the speaker proudly declares the influence that Karl Marx, co-author of The Communist Manifesto, has on him. Marx was all about class struggle, theorizing that the working class (the "proletariat") was locked in a struggle with a small group of people who controlled the economy (the "bourgeoisie"). What do you think Marx would have said about the modern American economic system?

It's always telling me about responsibility. Businessmen are serious. Movie
producers are serious. Everybody's serious but me (44)

This line puts the blame on Time magazine for nagging the speaker about being "serious." That's an interesting word, but what do you think he means? What does it look like to be a "serious" American? Do you need a job? Do you have to buy the same things that your neighbor buys? Whatever the case, this speaker's not having it. He's swimming against the pervading currents of his society.

I say nothing about my prisons nor the millions of underprivileged who live in
my flowerpots under the light of five hundred suns. (51)

This is an interesting metaphor that the speaker uses, describing the underprivileged in society as flowers who, rather than enjoying the nurturing rays of one sun, are under the light of five hundred suns. That's hot! We see two ways to look at this: (1) the underprivileged are the oppressed members of the society, much like a flower would be stifled and oppressed if five hundred suns were shining on it. Or, you might say that (2) since these are "my" (the speaker's) flowerpots, the speaker is taking charge of caring for the underprivileged. He's not just going to give them a little bit of sunshine, either. He's going to care for those trampled-on flowers with the light of five hundred suns.

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