Tuesday, October 7, 2008

From Appreciation to Obsession

Though both Barbara Hamby’s “Ode to American English” and Tony Hoagland’s “America” focus on the eclectic culture of the United States, their poems differ greatly in tone. While Hamby praises America for its unconventional, new age society, Hoagland views Americans as mere lemmings to pop culture commercialism. Hamby’s revelation occurs while in France. It is only after she has physically removed herself from the country that Hamby realizes her need for the various eccentricities of the American culture. When compared to both France and Great Britain, America is a country that is still in its adolescence and like any teenager it has a tendency to follow the trends and customs of the time. Without a longstanding history of tradition, one may argue (the way that Hoagland does) that America’s culture is indistinguishable and self-destructive but Hamby reasons that the concept of independence is the basis behind everything that America stands for. This independence is independence from both tradition and proper grammar. Hoagland, on the other hand, finds himself fully immersed in a capitalist driven world and unable to fight against the status quo. Hoagland knows that he is “asleep” but is well aware that he cannot break free from the commercialist ropes that bind him. A man ensnared by his own pleasures, Hoagland finds himself with nothing else to do but to give in to the American consumer mentality: self-satisfaction despite the costs.
Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” and Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess” both deal with the darker side of the human psyche, that which deals with obsession and murder. Poe’s lead character, Montresor, is motivated by vengeance. He wishes to get revenge on his nemesis, Fortunato, for an offense that is never described. Similarly the Duke of Browning’s poem appears to have committed murder for reasons unknown to the reader. Though the reader is lead to believe that it was her promiscuity that led the Duke to killing the Duchess, it becomes unclear whether the Duke had good reason to believe she was flirting with other men or if his greed and obsession with the Duchess led him to these accusations. Either way the title of the poem suggests that he is not entirely heartbroken over the loss of his “lover” and that he intends to find another soon. All four of the readings touch upon the various effects that obsession and human emotion have on the way we live our daily lives. For some, life is merely going through the motions (Hoagland), while others find the beauty in the little things in life (Hamby), but our appreciation for this beauty can often times lead to obsession which in turn opens the mind up to a darker side of human nature (Poe and Browning).

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