Ferlinghetti set this poem in San Francisco. This is a busy city filled with people from all sorts of ethnic and social backgrounds. To me this creates the opportunity to show two people of such different statuses in society together. It also gives the author the chance to show the two sets of people together due to circumstance, showing how people are forced to live along side each other regardless of creed.
The poem describes the people at a set of traffic lights, and although the traffic lights are rarely mentioned in the poem they are the basis of the text. It creates the main link between the two ‘garbage men’ and the two ‘beautiful people’. It is one of the few places in today’s society where these two sets of people are linked for so long in their busy lives.
The first people in the poem to be described in detail are the two people in the Mercedes. He is portrayed as an upper class architect and the woman is portrayed as a young woman that would only be with the man because of his social status.
After the setting, the first thing mentioned is the vehicles. These show a difference between the two types of people because of the affordability of them. Although both types of people drive vehicles the price of them and the status in society that they bring are very different. The architect drives a Mercedes that, if someone saw it in the street they would automatically assume that it belonged to someone that was wealthy. On the other hand the two bin men are driving a garbage truck, supplied with their work, which people do associate with scavengers and people of the lower class.
The second set of people is the two men who are described as ‘scavengers’ who are on their way home from their route as bin men. The older bin man was described as someone with ‘grey iron hair’ and with a hunchback, looking down like some gargoyle Quasimodo’. Quasimodo was a grotesque, unwitting hero in the tales, and I think, in a way, he depicts the bin man as an unseen hero of society. If you think about it the bin men are an important factor of the society because our lifestyle could not exist as they do without them. The younger man of the two is described as to be similar to the architect. This opinion is supported in the text as it describes them so similar. This leaves me to ponder what made their lives so different, was it upbringing, circumstance or education?
I think that the clothes that each couple wears, represents their job and status in society. For example Ferlinghetti dresses the architect in a “hip three-piece linen suit”. This represents casual style and successfulness that the ‘scavengers’ could not afford. When I think of a garbage man I picture him to wear old, worn out jeans, a dark colored, dirty jumper, and a ‘red plastic blazer’ for safety.
The author describes these two sets of people, not only looking different, but with different levels of words. For example, when he describes the young blond woman he illustrates her as “so casually coifed” and yet when talking about the bin men he uses words like “grungy”. Neither of these words is used in an ‘everyday’ context and therefore the poem must be aimed at a better educated audience.
Another point that draws my attention is the phrase “like an odorless TV ad”. I think he uses the keyword ‘odorless’ because of the jobs that the ‘scavengers’ do, to show the lack of thought because of the mundane monotony of their daily lives. He uses it as an adjective instead of just “like a TV ad”. He could have used a different adverb like mindless or dreamlike.
All that divides these two kinds of people are there jobs and a few meters of air that lies between their cars. Bin men generally cannot afford the same kinds of privileges as the architect and his partner. the description of the architect, his clothes, car and partner, lead you to think he would have a large house, possibly with a pool, lots of guest rooms and several mobile phones. Where the description of the bin men’s clothes posture and ‘odorless’ gaze lead you to think that they would be from a lower class and without the privileges afforded to the beautiful people.
What unites these two sets of people are the traffic lights. This is the one thing in their daily lives where they are linked. All that separates the two kinds of people there is a few meters in between cars. This shows that even though our social status splits people up into many different social classes with no links between them, it does have certain parts where the different classes are only separated by a few meters of air. Although the majority of the time people are self absorbed within their own lives and are completely oblivious to surrounding people, in the case of the poem the ‘beautiful people’ don’t notice the bin wagon at their side or the men gazing down at them.
This poem does not show an equal America, but an America with huge social divides. Although America bases its dream on equality between people of different age, gender and ethnicity, to me it shows that American society is totally opposite to its own ideal. To me, this shows America as being hypocritical of itself and its stereotypes. Instead America is not equal because of the divides varying wealth creates between different job statuses in our ‘modern day’ society.