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The poem is presented in a stream of consciousness literary format.
America is a largely political work, with much of the poem consisting of various accusations against the United States, its government, and its citizens. Ginsberg uses sarcasm to accuse America of attempting to divert responsibility for the Cold War ("America you don't want to go to war/ it's them bad Russians / Them Russians them Russians and them Chinamen. / And them Russians"), and makes numerous references to both leftist and anarchist political movements and figures (including Sacco and Vanzetti, the Scottsboro Boys and the Wobblies). The poem ends with Ginsberg putting his "queer shoulder to the wheel", although the original draft ended on a bleaker note: "Dark America! toward whom I close my eyes for prophecy, / and bend my speaking heart! / Betrayed! Betrayed!"
America is also an intensely personal poem, making references to Ginsberg's use of marijuana and his homosexuality, as well as fellow Beat writer William S. Burroughs. There is considerable reference to the alienation Ginsberg felt as a result of the culture of the McCarthy era combined with the values implied in the burgeoning suburbia. The longest line in the poem is a sentimental description of a Communist cell meeting his mother took him to when he was a child, ending abruptly with the ironic pronouncement "Everybody must have been a spy." .
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