Summer Solstice, New York City

September 15th, 2010

Sharon Olds’s “Summer Solstice, New York City” offers a depiction of technology’s duality of both being a predominant, omnipresent force as well as a means to preserving human life. The narrative of the poem details a man on the verge of suicide by way of jumping off of a rooftop in New York City. The poem’s makes many references to technological creations/constructs the suicidal man encounters on his ascent to the rooftop: “He went up the iron stairs through the roof of the building… over the soft, tarry surface… over the complex green cornice” (2-5). This repeated emphasis on physical imagery creates a sense of ¬†technology being a smothering force, and when considering the opening line makes referencing it being the “longest day of the year”, the desperation felt by the man can be traced to the societal construction and application of time. As such, time is shown as another form of technology, as it is a tool of sorts used to measure human life and discourse. The man serves as an allegorical figure for the notion of humanity being lost amidst a world of technology when considering the lack of description or personality; The man is nameless and his only words are not direct quotes, but reported speech (“…said if they came a step closer that was it” (5)).

While ¬†such imagery and characterizations form a perspective of humanity being destroyed and overrun by technology, “the huge machinery of the earth” as the narrator put it, technology is also shown to be self-preserving and life-enhancing (6). The same aforementioned “machinery” of life started to work in favor of the suicidal man through the systematic response of the police to prevent the man’s suicide: both physically-crafted technology of the “hairy net with its implacable grid” to catch the man should he jump as well as the use of negotiation tactics of the police officers on the roof; a persuasive tool for the police officers to achieve its desired end (22). Beyond focus of the suicidal man, technology is used as a reference for life preservation in the cop’s use of a bullet-proof vest as a “black shell around his own life, [the] life of his children’s father” (12). The technology of the vest is not just to protect the police officer, who in this role is an agent of the construct of law, but also to protect the father that he is to his children; a much more human, natural role. The difference between the expected reaction of the cops once they were able to get the man off from the ledge and what their actual response was serves to convey a sense of commonality among people overriding power struggles or societally constructed roles. The narrator said he/she “thought they were going to beat him up, as a mother whose child has been lost will scream when it is found”, an expectation that the cops were going to enact their institutional superiority, but they had just all lit cigarettes which “burned like the tiny camp fires we lit at night back at the beginning of the world” (40-42). This simile takes the modern stress relief act of smoking and links it to acts of campfire camaraderie and closeness at the beginning of human civilization, long before the age of technology. Thus, despite all the technology used for either smothering or assisting purposes, the poem ends on a point of continuous human commonality.

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One Response to “Summer Solstice, New York City”

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    Summer Solstice, New York City at Desmond Zantua’s ENG399 Honors Blog

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