Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Brecht and other refugees from Nazi Germany—authors, composers, and artists—moved to Los Angeles because of its reputation as a safe haven. Despite this positive, lifesaving function of the city, the poem conveys Brecht’s feelings of dislike for this sprawling metropolis on the West Coast of the United States. According to a published note on Shelley, Brecht felt akin to the British poet in his awareness of the plight of the lower classes. Brecht expands this notion to include people of all social strata. Taking up Shelley’s theme of the modern city as a manifestation of hell, Brecht believes that Los Angeles provides a more appropriate model of hell than London because it is no longer the smoky (yet productive) city of the Industrial Revolution that was hell mainly to the workers. Instead, the lush, overripe city of Los Angeles alienates people of all classes. The semblance of riches, of nature blown out of proportion, of houses that are empty shells, and of people apparently pursuing an idle life merely signify decadence that hovers on the edge of decay. The individual no longer plays a meaningful part in the life of the city but is swept through it as an isolated being, engulfed by the raging river of the masses. The American tendency to “keep smiling,” exemplified by the “jolly-looking people” in their cars, is no longer a sign of happiness but rather of emptiness. Society’s goal is no longer the contentment of people occupied with purposeful...

(The entire section is 463 words.)