Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Elizabeth Alexander's "Nineteen"

"Nineteen" is not just a coming of age poem, but a poem that defies the essence of coming of age stories. Alexander's memories of her first summary away from home as a nineteen year old were vivid and, lack for better words, honest. This honesty, however, is how readers relate to her poem. Although not all nineteen year olds smoke weed, drink alcohol, and have sex wtih older men, almost all nineteen year olds use their new freedom to the maximum limit; even "perfect" nineteen year olds find some excitement in freedom away from their parents. Therefore, Alexander makes this poem relatable to everyone who has experienced their nineteen year old summer, experiencing the thrills of freedom as adults.
The older man, on the other hand, is not experiencing freedom like Alexander, but is instead numbing himself so as not to relive painful experiences he had in Vietnam. He knowingly had an affair with a nineteen year old woman and used drugs and alcohol to deal with his feelings. Even simple questions about Vietnam, like how the jungle smelled, compelled the man to grab between Alexander's legs so as to forget the subject. The irony, however, is t hat his senses caused him to remember certain events. By listening to how the rain pounded on the van, the man automatically remembered how the rain sounded in Vietnam. The only memory he could deal with was how he learned everything about marijuana in Vietnam, possibly because that was the only memory that wasn't painful for him. His numbed feelings, therefore, are restrictive in themselves. Instead of reliving experiences in Vietnam to free himself from his pain, the man instead uses all means possible to run away from the worst event of his life.
"Nineteen" isn't just a simple poem about summer full of fun and debauchery. It is a poem that describes new found freedom, as well as freedom lost by running away.

No comments:

Post a Comment