«ЛУГАНСЬКОГО НАЦІОНАЛЬНОГО УНІВЕРСИТЕТУ ІМЕНІ ТАРАСА ШЕВЧЕНКА № 14 (249) ЛИПЕНЬ ВІСНИК ЛУГАНСЬКОГО НАЦІОНАЛЬНОГО УНІВЕРСИТЕТУ ІМЕНІ ТАРАСА ШЕВЧЕНКА ФІЛОЛОГІЧНІ НАУКИ № 14 (249) липень ...»
The earliest definitions and connotations for ‘America’ as an idea came from Native Americans which made a complex oral literature discourse long before the word ‘America’ came into existence. In this sense, America and the Earth are synonymous. There is no distinction between the two, since ‘America’ as a word does not exist, yet. The Earth, and thus America, is a living entity and is to be revered and respected as such. This can be very clearly seen in the Navajo "Song of the Earth": “Below the East, the Earth, its face toward the East. The top of its head is beautiful. The soles of its feet are beautiful. Its feet, they are beautiful. Its legs, they are beautiful” . Here the earth is pictured as being an animal, and the repeated lines at the beginning and the end of the song: “The Earth is beautiful” demonstrate the reverence for the Earth that is manifested in the Native American view of the Earth, and thus of America. As the song lists different things that are on the Earth, facing different directions, it gains a ubiquitous quality, as though it speaks for and about the entire universe. The repetition of corn in the song lends to the image of America the role of a provider of sustenance, which is part of its beauty.
This is very similar to the poetry and ideas contained in the poetry of Walt Whitman. Whitman often lists different things in a repetitive manner, such as in the song above. For example, in "I Sing the Body Electric," Whitman lists just about every body part he can think of: “Mouth, tongue, lips, teeth, roof of the mouth, jaws, and the jaw-hinges...Broad breast-front, curling hair of the breast, breast-bone, breast-side… All attitudes, all the shapeliness, all the belongings of my or your body or of any one's body, male or female…” [Ibid.]. In doing so, he achieves the same sense of the universal that was achieved in the Navajo song. Moreover, his purpose in listing each part of the body is to examine its beauty. "That of the male is perfect, and that of the female is perfect". By creating this sense of the universal he identifies his own Вісник ЛНУ імені Тараса Шевченка № 14 (249), 2012_______________
body with the bodies of everyone living in America and the world with him, and so is speaking for all of America. Thus, America is, again, a living creature with its own part of the body, all of which are beautiful and worthy of reverence.
This idea was repeated again a hundred years later in the writings of Allen Ginsberg, especially "Howl" and "America". Ginsberg, however, takes the list even further to mention parts of the body that even Whitman neglected to include: “The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy! The nose is holy! The tongue and cock and hand and asshole holy!” [Ibid.]. Although Whitman certainly acknowledges a spiritual and metaphysical value of each of the body parts he names: “O I say these are not the parts and poems of the body only, but of the soul, O I say now these are the soul!” [Ibid.].
Ginsberg goes further to claim the holiness of each, and relates them to numerous other elements of America, which are also holy. The ubiquitous, allencompassing nature of his list and the fact that he speaks for all of America becomes even more apparent as he says: “It occurs to me that I am America. I am talking to myself again” [Ibid.].
America is again a living creature, this time more definitely human, with the ability to speak and form coherent ideas. This personification of America is similar to the association of a nation or city-state with a particular god or goddess, as the Greeks did. Instead of creating a patron god, however, America is itself, in some ways, a god. Whether this god is of a good nature or an evil one seems to be in question, despite the beauty of America. Ginsberg, himself, raises this question, also in "Howl," in part II. America becomes associated with the ancient Babylonian god, Moloch: “Moloch whose factories dream and croak in the fog! Moloch whose smokestacks and antennae crown the cities!” [Ibid.]. America, then, is a god which consumes as well as providing sustenance.
This can also be seen in “Paterson”, by William Carlos Williams. Here, Paterson, New Jersey is a sleeping giant. The titans of Greek mythology, which could be seen as a race of giants, were not quite gods themselves, although they were close. Thus, Paterson as a city in America is not quite a god, like America can be seen as, but still has body parts like those of a human and is more powerful than any of the humans residing in the city: “Paterson lies in the valley under the Passaic Falls its spent waters forming the outline of his back. He lies on his right side, head near the thunder of the waters filling his dreams!” [Ibid.].
But Paterson is the first American factory city, and so represents America as a whole, much in the way Ginsberg or Whitman represents America as a whole through their poetry. But to Williams' view, Paterson is an infertile city: “The perfections are sharpened The flower spreads its colored petals wide in the sun But the tongue of the bee misses them They sink back into the loam as they wilt and disappear” [Ibid.].
Paterson, then, is not the sustenance provider that America, the Earth, is to the Native American view. Instead, Paterson coincides with the view of Вісник ЛНУ імені Тараса Шевченка № 14 (249), 2012_______________
America as the Panphage, or All-Eater, that is seen in part II of Ginsberg's "Howl," and Tillie Olsen's “Yonnondio”. In “Yonnondio”, America and, more specifically, America's capitalism becomes another Moloch figure, hungry for the blood of children and a god to which one gives human sacrifices: “To him, the mine was alive – a thousand-armed creature, with ghosts hanging from the crossbeams, ghosts living in the coal swearing revenge when their homes were broken into...The mine was hungry for a child, she was reaching her thousand arms for it. "she only takes men 'cause she aren`t got kids. All women want kids" [Ibid.].
The mine, a symbol of America's capitalism and thus of America, is here given some motherly characteristics. The association with the hungry god Moloch lessens and an association with Kali, or Kalika, the Hindu dark mother goddess, is gained. Compare the passage above to: “dark mother devi, alone creates, destroys. oh, the form of woman – devoid of sympathy, man-hater, man-maker (Kalika)” [Ibid.].
The same image appears in both passages: that of the mother goddess figure that is also a destroyer, consumer. It is an image also familiar to Allen Ginsberg in part I of "Howl,": “who lost their loveboys to the three old shrews of fate...the one eyed shrew that winks out of the womb and the one eyed shrew that does nothing but sit on her ass and snip the intellectual golden threads of the craftsman’s loom” [Ibid.]. The image clearly demonstrates the dual association of this goddess with both birth and death.
Between birth and death is, of course, the journey of life. Another important view of America is that America as the open road. This view is prevalent in earlier works, such as Benjamin Franklin's autobiography and Walt Whitman’s "Song of the Open Road" among others. Such a view is also central to the themes of Jack Kerouac's “On the Road” and Barbara Kingsolver's “The Bean Trees”. In each case, America does not yet have a clear definition, but rather one needs to search for a definition.
Sal Paradise, in “On the Road”, seems to find this definition in Mexico, rather than the United States. This is not; however, a paradox since Mexico is a part of Northern America and is just as much a part of the idea of America as the United States is. More importantly, he finds America among the Native Americans that first lived in Mexico: “They were great, grave Indians and they were the source and mankind and the fathers of it. They knew who was the father and who was the son of antique life on earth, and made no comment” [Ibid.]. Again, America takes on the role of a creator god, this time through the original inhabitants of the continent. But Sal Paradise also has experience with the feaster god, as he was born and raised in Paterson, New Jersey. Indeed, his motivation in going on the road is to escape from Paterson in some spiritual way and find salvation elsewhere in America. His journey, then, is one of escape from the feaster aspect of the god America in search of the provider aspect of the god America.
Taylor Greere also finds America among Native Americans in “The Bean Trees”. She completes her journey by adopting a Cherokee child in Вісник ЛНУ імені Тараса Шевченка № 14 (249), 2012_______________
Oklahoma, not far from the Lake o' the Cherokees, which she describes as being "a place where you could imagine God might live. There were enough trees" [Ibid.]. This is a reference to the Cherokee belief that God lives in tall trees, as told to Taylor by her mother. The location of America is God's dwelling place, this time, again, associating America with a provider god.
At the end of the article the author comes to conclusion that while the definitions and connotations inherent in the word "America" in American literature greatly varies from work to work, there seems to be a central theme to the works analyzed here. America is seen not only as a nation or geographical setting, but as a god or goddess figure. The divinity of America is one that is both beneficent and malignant at times, and the search for the "true America" seems to be not a search for a singular object or place, but is a search for one aspect of America while escaping from another aspect of America. America is both the provider of sustenance as well as the devourer of children, particularly its own children.
It is interesting to observe the transformation of the image of America using the quotations, given by different writers in different historical epochs;
all these expressions are presented in “The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase, Saying and Quotations”. For instance, Walt Whitman wrote in his “Leaves of Grass”: “The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem” [10, p. 15]. Katherine Lee Bates dedicated wonderful lines to the New World in “America the Beautiful”: “America! America! God Shed His grace on thee And crown thy good with brotherhood From sea to shining sea!” [Ibid., p.16].
Mark Twain who had “the ability to capture the enduring, archetypal, mythic images of America before the writer and the country came of age or to create some of the most memorable characters in all American fiction”, wrote in “Following the Equator”: “It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of consciousness, and the prudence never to practice either of them” [Ibid.].
Izrael Zangwill expressed in “The Melting Pot”: America is God’s Crucible, the great Melting Pot where all races of Europe are melting and re-forming” [Ibid.]. “The land of the dull and the home of the literal” was told by Gore Vidal in “Reflections upon a Sinking Ship” [Ibid., p. 17]. John Updike said in 1980: “America is a vast conspiracy to make you happy” [Ibid.]. The brightest example for showing the total change in the interpretations of the image of America is the words said by Jean Baudrillard in “Amerique”: “The microwave, the waste disposal, the orgasmic elasticity of the carpets, this soft resort – style civilization irresistibly evokes the end of the world” .
Margaret Thatcher once regarded American nation as “no other nation possesses such a unique mix of races and nations within one culture” [11, p.