What are some of the images in the poem "Money" by Dana Gioia?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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In the poem "Money", Dana Gioia uses imagery to convey in the reader an alternative illustration of money; one that takes away the glamour, enigma, and glitz that is often associated with it.

Rather than placing money on a pedestal, Gioia drags the concept, the idea of money down to a bare neutral position where it can be seen as what it really is: merely a combination of paper and coins whose value is entirely dependent on the market in which it circulates, and on those who need it.

The first instance of imagery comes in the first verse:

Money, the long green

Notice how by "long green" Gioia is using common and simple words to represent something that, to many people, means everything.

Greenbacks, double eagles,
megabucks and Ginnie Maes

Everybody has a different nickname for money. These are the names of different types of American currencies and banks that evoke the feeling of ambition and the hunger for always having more. Greenbacks are currency dating back to the 1800's circa the Civil War; sort of like war bonds, so to speak. Nowadays it merely means "money". Meanwhile the double eagles are very expensive gold coins worth around $20 USD (it may have changed). Either way, it evokes a time of abundance and flamboyance.

"Ginnie Mae", contrastingly, is the colloquial nickname given to the Government National Mortgage Association, which is a subsidiary of HUD and is another portfolio addend such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. As you may already know, these latter two did not pass the challenges of the economy with flying colors; we could assume that neither could Ginnie Mae. Regardless, the idea of Ginnie Mae evokes a feeling of sadness when we consider that money will never be enough to just "purchase" a home and make it our own; we are forever in debt with the mortgage companies: nothing is really "ours".

Finally, the imagery that may allude more to the ambiguous nature of money is the stanza that reads

It greases the palm, feathers a nest,
holds heads above water,
makes both ends meet.

Although money can make us evil and greedy, it is a necessary evil, and sometimes an inevitable greed. Money may not be able to buy happiness, as some think, but if you do not have it you would be left out in the street; the imagery of money here is as a being of malleable plasticity that can become anything and everything that we want it to be.

Gioia, in trying to move the image of money away from the fantastic and the magnificent, presents an image to us that demonstrates that money, in itself, has no value but that which we give to it.


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