Structure And Symbolism In Elizabeth Alexander's 'Nineteen'

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Teenagers have always sought to be their own person, forgoing rules and even recommendations in favour of self-determination. While an honourable undertaking, this path to self-discovery, leads them to experience new ordeals, where mistakes will be made. To reassure us that these mistakes are not necessarily bad, Elizabeth Alexander, in her poem "Nineteen", illustrates how youth 's desire for freedom¬ and to escape from their reality allows them to grow into adulthood and leads them to make choices that will impact their perception of the world. This theme will be analysed through structure, symbolism and contrast.
The growth of a young adult through his or her experiences is illustrated through the structure of the poem. Composed of three …show more content…

Such acceptance of errors can be viewed through the use of the words white and black as symbols by the speaker. During her summer away from home, "all [the persona had] to eat was white" (1) but after her affair with the man, "every [time she] would return to the city, [she was] black and dusty" (7-8). Seeing that white symbolizes purity and innocence, at nineteen, the persona viewed herself as someone who was, before that summer, untarnished and pure, whether it was about her virginity or her morality ¬- as she slept with an older man. However, as black represents impurity and unworthiness and the dust something unwanted, the speaker 's nineteen-year-old self views herself as tarnished after having a fling with a married man. These colors represent the black and white perception of the world the persona has while not yet being an adult. This narrow view of the world, an idealist view where there is just the right and the wrong, causes the persona to doubt herself. Due to her lack of experience and wisdom, the speaker cannot judge the situation as it should be, that she is innocent as she did not know that the man was married when she slept with him. As an adult, the persona reflects on both that summer and how she came to realize how "nothing could be ruined in one stroke" (22). Though the "stroke" (22) represents the sexual …show more content…

During the summer when she nineteen, the persona describes herself as "the baby, drinking rum and Coke" (4). The baby-like characteristics of the speaker, such as her lack of experience, contrast with the fact that she is drinking rum, which a baby does not normally do. This contrast illustrates how the persona is eager to be freed of her current situation, of her current reality, wanting the freedom to behave how she desires and discover more about life. For instance, when she meets the older man with whom she has a fling with during the summer, the persona "ask[s] and ask[s him] about Vietnam" (17), inquisitive about his experience. Despite her curiosity, the man is closed off on the matter, only stating that "he listened to a lot of Marvin Gaye" (18-9). The older man 's behavior contrasts with that of the persona who is young and has barely experienced life. Whereas the speaker is eager to discover life and have new experiences to escape her reality, the older man avoids his truth by focusing on mundane details of his experience in the Vietnam War. Furthermore, the older man was once a young man himself, surely eager to have new experiences, as he enrolled in the army. Instead of having these desires fulfilled, his memories of the war have caused his view of the world to greatly deviate from that of the persona and

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