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What do the allusions and symbolic names in Baraka's "Somebody Blew Up America" refer to?

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mhassaan | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted May 27, 2011 at 5:53 AM via web

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What do the allusions and symbolic names in Baraka's "Somebody Blew Up America" refer to?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted May 28, 2011 at 11:08 AM (Answer #1)

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[Poetry speaks to different people in different ways. These are my opinions.]

Amiri Baraka's "Somebody Blew Up America" is a powerful piece of writing that asks us how we can delineate between the terrorists of 9-11, and others tyrants—or those who terrorize legally as opposed to those who openly break the law.

Many allusions are used. Baraka refers to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, and the events associated with a black man's wish to be free and equal—he recalls the 16th Street Baptist Church, in Birmingham, Alabama, that was blown up—killing four little girls inside.

At about 10:22...twenty-six children were walking into the basement...to prepare for the sermon entitled “The Love That Forgives,” when the bomb exploded.

Baraka alludes to slavery: who owned the first plantation—the man that abused, raped and lynched black slaves? Who bought the slaves and who sold them? He speaks of great men who have been killed, and asks, who did it?

Who killed Malcolm, Kennedy & his Brother 
Who killed Dr King…Are they linked to the murder of Lincoln?

Baraka also remembers Medgar Evers, the Jews, the Scottsboro Boys, the poisoned blankets given to the Indians, and "The Trail of Tears."  Baraka wonders who supported Hitler or Chiang kai Chek? Who believed Jeffrey Dalmer "wasn't insane?" Who has poisoned, who has invaded, who has blown up, or overthrown? Who knew the Twin Towers were to be bombed? Who knew why the pilots were trained in Florida and California? Baraka asks...

Who killed Rosa Luxembourg, Liebneckt

Who murdered the Rosenbergs

And all the good people iced,

tortured, assassinated, vanished...

Who has committed the greatest number of crimes against specific cultures? If we knew, would that be the most important answer?

The allusions and the symbolic names draw the reader's attention to the question people seem to want to answer—who is more evil? Can we ever know? Was it was bin Laden or Hitler? Would knowing (if possible) mean anything, when it continues to happen throughout the world? Or is the worst thing not the who, but that we are unable to stop them?

Baraka then draws our attention to the quintessential forces people very often associate with the battle of good vs evil.

Who  the Beast in Revelations 
Who  666 
Who decide 
Jesus get crucified

Who is the ruler of Hell? 
Who is the most powerful

Who you know ever 
Seen God?

But everybody seen 
The Devil

Baraka attempts to show that all things and all people are separated into one of two categories: good or evil. I feel he is saying that there are no "in-betweens." There is a constant struggle between the less powerful and the more powerful. Who decides who is who?

Baraka asks questions, but he rarely uses question marks. Is this because he doesn't expect anyone to answer? What can anyone say? He brings to our attention the dark history of nations around the world beyond and before bin Laden.

Osama bin Laden's name may the contemporary world's favorite villain, but what makes him or any other, the worst? The author draws our attention to many terrorists, now and in the past. Perhaps he does not believe there are answers to be had, but simply wants to remind us of the futility of laying blame, and remind us that people are good or bad: we should stop trying to figure out who is the most awful, and work harder to stop these kinds of crimes.

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