Study Guide

America Dissatisfaction

By Allen Ginsberg

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When a poem begins with a speaker declaring "now I'm nothing," you know you're in for a heapin' helpin' of some good ol' dissatisfaction. In fact, reading this poem is a lot like listening to that Rolling Stones record. Let's face it, wherever the speaker looks—including in the mirror—he sees things that he wants to change. He's just not satisfied with the status quo. His desire to change his country is really what propels "America." In that way, then, being dissatisfied can be a good thing, since it allows Ginsberg's speaker to make a push for a better world.

Questions About Dissatisfaction

  1. How much do you trust the observations made by the poem's speaker? Does his dissatisfaction make his criticisms of America more valid, or do you read the poem as a laundry list of sour grapes (a grape-list, if you will)?
  2. Can a country ever truly be "angelic"? If so, what would it take?
  3. Of the "demands" that America places on the speaker, which do you think bother him the most?
  4. Do you think that the speaker truly expects to one day be totally satisfied by his country's behavior? Or is he simply engaging in a life-long argument with America? How do you know?

Chew on This

The most important quality of the speaker's personality is his dissatisfaction with the status quo. That trumps everything, including his communist sympathies.

The speaker is asking for the impossible. America will never be able to satisfy his demands to be "angelic."

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