(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Greed is a collection of poems about the identity of America in the late twentieth century. In dramatic monologues spoken by famous or obscure Americans, Ai exposes amorality in the institutions of society, business, and private life. For most of the speakers, America has not kept its promises. Truth and justice are illusions in a society made more vicious, because of greed, than the Darwinian struggle for survival among animals. Money, power, drugs, sex—these are the gods of late twentieth century America.

To the African American speakers, slavery is still alive in the “big house” of white America. Violence is the result. In “Riot Act, April 29, 1992,” a black man, going to get something on the day the wealth “finally trickled down,” threatens to “set your world on fire.” In “Self Defense,” Marion Barry, mayor of Washington, D.C., trapped using crack cocaine by the FBI, warns: “The good ole days of slaves out pickin’ cotton/ ain’t coming back no more.” In “Endangered Species,” a black university professor, perceived as “a race instead of a man,” is stopped by police while driving through his own neighborhood.

In “Hoover, Edgar J.,” Ai indicts the director of the FBI for abuse of power. Hoover admits he has “files on everybody who counts” and “the will to use them.” Deceptions by government are implicated in poems concerning the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In “Jack...

(The entire section is 445 words.)


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Suggested Readings

Ai. “An Interview with Ai.” Interview by Catherine French, Rebecca Ross, and Gary Short. Hayden’s Ferry Review 5 (Fall, 1989): 11-31.

Wilson, Rob. “The Will to Transcendence in Contemporary American Poet Ai.” Canadian Review of American Studies 17, no. 4 (Winter, 1986): 437-448.