Study Guide

In the Suburbs

by Louis Simpson

In the Suburbs Summary


Lines 1–3
“In the Suburbs” is a small poem about a big topic. Its title announces its subject. For Americans, the idea and image of the suburbs is mixed. On the one hand, many consider it a welcome refuge from the congestion, noise, and crime of the city. On the other hand, it has the reputation as a place marked by conformity, conservative values, and stodginess. In the first stanza, the speaker adopts the latter point of view, presenting the suburbs as a prison of sorts. The tone is harsh and accusatory, as the speaker equates the suburbs with middle-class life, both of which he sees as meaningless. The important word in this stanza is “born.” Being born into a situation or identity suggests that one has little or no choice in the matter, that he or she acts according to a path already laid out. By using the second person “you,” Simpson suggests that he is addressing another part of himself. This is a standard use of the second person in contemporary poetry.

The idea that one is born into a way of life over which one has no control is embodied in naturalism, a way of representing the world that emerged in the nineteenth century, largely as a result of the theories of Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud. Naturalist writers, like realist writers, focus on the observable world, paying close attention to those forces that limit human desire or will, such as nature, one’s genetic inheritance, or economic conditions. American...

(The entire section is 422 words.)