In the poem Red Shift, Ted Berrigan suggests that the “American Dream” is nothing but a false goal because in the end happiness is not achievable. Throughout the poem Berrigan’s negative attitude and anger toward society is reflected and is also intensified towards the end of the poem.
The speaker of this poem does not have a positive feeling about the American lifestyle. The poem relates American life to “American poison liquid air which bubbles and smokes” (line 4.) Poison is something that can be harmful and life threatening to those who come in contact with it and it is used to help support what Berrigan feels toward American way of life. The meaning of life has changed over time due to changes in society. Berrigan references to years back when “the man smoking is looking at the smiling attentive women telling.”(line11) And then to “the calvados is being sipped on long island now” (line) which clearly helps the readers picture the change that has occurred, for the worst, in society.
The living to achieve the American Dream is something that can not sustain true happiness. The speaker of the poem says, “Who would have though that I’d be here... nothing wrapped up, nothing buried, everything love, children, hundreds of them, marriage, ethnics, a politics of grace” (line 13-15), which shows that the American dream was achieved. Although the speaker had everything from children, marriage and love the outcome of the dream was not what was expected. It was something that he dedicated himself to work toward, “We both vanish into the thin air that we signed up for” (line 25) but in the end happiness was not there.
Finding out that happiness was not the outcome of living out the American Dream caused anger and negativity toward society. “There’s a song,” California dreaming” but no I will not do that” (line 30.) California dreaming was a popular song back in the 1900’s that was about living a carefree happy life full of hope and youth. The quote shows the speaker feels that he will not be able to live down the life that is sung about in the song “California dreaming” and that he won’t be able to live a carefree happy life. He talks about the “world’s furious song flows through my costume” which is interpreted as the anger the world has and he is the person that is speaking out about it.
When setting a goal and achieving results are often satisfactory such as setting a goal to win the race and then taking home the trophy but in this poem the goal is reversed. The speaker of the poem set his goal and lived to achieve the American dream and in the end he was unable to find happiness. Therefore, in the eyes of Berrigan, the dream is false and that it leads to utter disappointment.