America! America! Themes

Themes and Meanings (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Although Delmore Schwartz added a disclaimer that “the characters in this story are not to be identified with actual persons,” and that it is “a work of fiction in the fullest sense of the word,” readers will see possible parallels between the musician-listener (Belmont) and any poet-creator, especially in the concluding reflections concerning Belmont’s sense of differentness, society’s lack of appreciation, and its failure to acknowledge the importance of art.

Even if readers honor the disclaimer, they will still notice the juxtapositions of the personal and the social. Schwartz sets his story during the first part of the twentieth century, ending with the Depression, and fills it with details about the aspirations of a typical immigrant family. Himself a third-generation American, Belmont Weiss learns not only about the changes that affected the Baumanns but also about those that have shaped his own life. As he hears more and more about the Baumanns, he acquires a growing understanding of his own life until finally he is overcome by a “profound uneasiness” and realizes that the contempt that he had directed toward the Baumann way of life is in reality self-contempt.

Belmont finds it difficult to put himself in the place of his forebears. Gradually, however, he begins to see a pattern in the experience of the immigrants and their children—a pattern that is evident not only in the failure of the younger Baumanns but also in...

(The entire section is 413 words.)