What is Stewart Brown's poem "West Indies, USA" about?

Expert Answers
Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The ultimate meaning of "West Indies USA" is in the last three lines, however the entire poem contains the meanings that lead up to the final one. In other words, in "West Indies, USA," the journey is as important as the destination. This concept is mirrored in and parallel to the journey the poetic speaker takes within the text of the poem.

The poetic speaker is flying in a commercial airplane "Cruising at thirty thousand feet above the endless green" of the West Indies and Caribbean. The speaker enumerates the highlights he sees as they fly over on their way to their destination of San Juan, Puerto Rico. As the plane sweeps overhead to position for a landing at San Juan, the first two stanzas describe the marks of Westernization on the Caribbean islands of Puerto Rico and the West Indies and US Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands: Puerto Rico, with San Juan, is north of the West Indies; Port-au-Prince is in Haiti, north of Puerto Rico; Picaro Airport serves Trinidad and Tobago in the British Virgin Islands to the east of the US Virgin Islands; St. John is the smallest of the islands in the US Virgin Islands to the south of Puerto Rico.

The next two stanzas criticize--and in so doing, denounce--the marks of "US regulation" and "barbed / electric fences around America's / back yard" with "US patrol cars" where "that vaunted sanctuary" echoes the motto of Liberty: "'Give me your poor...'." The last full stanza compares the two halves of San Juan's dual reality--and by extension, the Caribbean’s and West Indies’ dual realities--with its "shanties" versus "condominiums" and its "polished Cadillacs" versus "Rastas [Rastafarians] with pushcarts."

In this stanza also, Brown calls San Juan a place like "fool's gold," an allusion to the Gold Rush days when miners found fool's gold, or a mineral similar to gold that was not gold. He then introduces a metaphor that compares San Juan to a television that has "fallen / off the back of a lorry [large truck]," with "twisted wires" on the road. He ends by saying that despite the polished trappings of Americanism, the West Indies are "sharp ... and dangerous," but most of all, they "belonged to someone else." Brown ends with this dramatic metaphoric appeal to what one can only call true liberty, which is symbolized by Lady Liberty's torch and which would replace the hollow echo of "'Give me your poor...'."

mr5252 | Student

West Indies USA is based heavily upon the theme of expectations/imagery versus reality. Throughout the poem, Brown makes several critisizing comments towards the US which lead us to believe that he thinks that the US' presence in the island is not there to really benefit the island but to actually just control it. We see that there is still poverty rampant in the island even though it is expected that it should be the most "plush" of all the Caribbean islands again due to the American presence which is expected to develop the island. Through Brown's imagery we see that there is a lot of economical segregation in the island where the poor is clearly distinguished from the rich, "...gavanised shanties overseen by condominiums polished Cardillacs shimmying past Rastas with pushcarts..".  

jessy4 | Student

The poem is about a man who was traveling and stopped at several caribben islands . He realises that most of the islands he visited had a poor background and he anticipates the stop at puerto rico . The persona stated that "airports are like calling cards this therefore denotes the culture of each island he visited . However, unlike every other island he visited he was not able to come off the plane when he landed at puerto rico which made him very disappointed however of what he could see through the windows he realise that poverty was still rampant in the island and also there were alot of segregation because you could tell the difference with the rich and poor 

tiffywiffy15 | Student

it is about a man who was visiting several Caribbean islands and was excited to reach Puerto Rico because he believed that it was going to be the greatest island or sumn like that and when he reached he was disappointed because he realized that it was just like the other islands. It had ghettos like the other islands and black people but the main difference was that it was owned by "The USA" which the persona thought would make it the best island of the Caribbean. In the end of the poem, the persona compares San Juan to a shattered TV set belonging to someone else.

professorjoan | Student

There seems to be cynicism underlying Brown's comment. Especially in the third stanza. For some it might just be a quaint tourist attraction.Obviously below the facade is the remider of the  stark reality of life.

Even the land of the free is truly not free for some. The images of the barbed wire and repetition o of "stay on the plane" strongly remind the reader that the 'bright cars and micro-chips/ belongs to someone else.