English Literature
An American Sunrise

An American Sunrise

Shiken premium Upgrade Banner

The Impact of Joy Harjo's "An American Sunrise" on Modern Society

Originally published in 2017 and later featured as the title poem in her 2019 collection, "An American Sunrise" by Joy Harjo is a powerful and significant piece of literature. This poem delves into the themes of race and Indigenous sovereignty in contemporary America, offering a powerful and thought-provoking commentary on the struggles faced by Native Americans in a society that often suppresses their voices.

An In-Depth Look at "An American Sunrise"

"An American Sunrise" is a prose poem, meaning it follows the conventions of prose writing while incorporating poetic elements. It contains complete sentences, but also utilizes poetic devices such as conciseness, intensity, unconventional capitalization, and fragmented sentences. Let's examine this profound poem and its literary techniques.

The Full Poem of "An American Sunrise"

"We were out of breath, rushing to meet ourselves. We confronted our ancestors' battles and readied ourselves to fight. Escaping the Indian bar was difficult for the sober, but effortless for the drinking and pool-playing crowd. We made plans for success - and we achieved it. Some of us could sing, so we beat a path to the stars. We sang of the invention of sin and the Devil by Christians. Labeled as heathens, we ironically sought salvation from them. A bit of gin could clear the mind and spark a desire to dance. We were integral to the development of blues and jazz. In June, I argued with a member of the Pueblo tribe as I fed the jukebox with dimes. Forty years later, and the quest for justice continues. We are still America. We have heard the rumors of our demise. We spit them out. They die quickly."

A Synopsis of Joy Harjo's "An American Sunrise"

This poem takes readers on a journey through the vibrant and energetic world of young Native American adults, who revel in parties and dancing in a post-colonial America. It begins with the speaker and their friends breathlessly trying to find themselves - a reflection of the rapid pace and perpetual change of youth (line 1). This sets the tone for the rest of the poem, introducing these fearless individuals and their quest for self-discovery.

The second line immediately touches on the theme of ancestry, a deeply-rooted and significant concept for Native American tribes, specifically the Creek Tribe referenced in the poem due to Harjo's personal connection as a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The speaker also addresses substance use, revealing how it was easier to evade their issues by drinking and playing pool instead of staying sober - a stark contrast to societal norms. However, despite the partying, they still made plans for their future, and some even succeeded.

"An American Sunrise" is not solely about wild youth and substance use; it is also a celebration of individuality and an expression of the unwavering passion and zeal with which these young individuals embrace it. Lines 6-7 challenge the belief that sin and the Devil were created by Christians, further emphasizing the disparity between Native American and settler-colonial cultures.

The poem takes a somber turn towards the end, with the speaker expressing their ongoing fight for justice, four decades after a dispute with someone from the Pueblo tribe. This allusion to the historical struggles endured by Native Americans, such as the Trail of Tears and attempted genocide, highlights the speaker's yearning for justice. The poem concludes on a powerful note, proclaiming that Native Americans are still very much alive and an integral part of America, despite rumors of their disappearance. They continue to defy society's expectations and leave a lasting impression on the country.

In Conclusion

"An American Sunrise" by Joy Harjo is a poignant and gripping poem that exposes the realities faced by Native Americans in modern-day United States. It serves as a reminder that they are still a vibrant and significant part of America, shaping its culture and identity. This poem offers a powerful commentary on race and Indigenous sovereignty, and its impact lingers with readers long after reading it.

The Devastating Impact of Settler-Colonialism on Native American Youth in Joy Harjo's "An American Sunrise"

In 1831, President Andrew Jackson forcibly relocated Native American peoples in a journey known as the Trail of Tears, spanning 5,031 miles and 9 states. This traumatic event saw thousands of individuals from various tribes uprooted from their homes and forced onto unfamiliar land. Tragically, over 15,000 lives were lost on this journey. However, this was just one instance of the harm and violence inflicted upon Native American populations and their cultures by settler-colonialists.

In "An American Sunrise", Joy Harjo explores the themes of youth, settler-colonialism, and rebellion. The poem centers around the dreams and resistance of Native American youth, as the speaker calls for justice and challenges the beliefs imposed upon their people by the colonizers. Despite the passage of time, the speaker remains devoted to their ancestors, finding inspiration in the starry night and the music of their heritage to steer the course of history away from the destruction of their community.

The emphasis on youth in the poem highlights the power, passion, and determination of young people in pursuing their beliefs and aspirations. Line 4-5 acknowledges that some individuals in the bar may have gone on to become professionals, yet the speaker remains steadfast in their pursuit of justice, even after 40 years. This unwavering fight is a testament to the dedication of youth, who refuse to back down in the face of injustice.

The title "An American Sunrise" alludes to a new beginning for Native Americans, yet the concept of settler-colonialism is omnipresent within the poem. From the invention of sin by Christians to the labeling of the speaker and their friends as "heathens", the poem challenges the accepted narrative of Native Americans being conquered and degraded. Despite their actions, the speaker does not feel remorse, using their behavior as a form of resistance against the prevailing colonizer's viewpoint.

At its core, "An American Sunrise" is a poem of rebellion. The speaker's actions, such as drumming, drinking, and arguing, all convey a sense of defiance and a burning passion that continues to guide them throughout their life. As mentioned in line 13, even after 40 years, the speaker is still seeking justice, unwilling to accept the rumors of their community's downfall.

In the 2017 version of "An American Sunrise", Harjo cleverly employs various literary devices, including enjambment, metaphor, and alliteration, to enhance the poem's impact. Enjambment is used in nearly every line, creating a flowing rhythm and a sense of urgency. Metaphors allow the poem to smoothly shift between time periods and ideas, emphasizing the rebellious spirit of the speaker. Additionally, alliteration adds to the poem's sonic qualities, further intensifying its impact.

Overall, "An American Sunrise" is a powerful piece of literature that sheds light on the resilience and determination of Native American youth in the face of settler-colonialism. Harjo's use of literary devices and thought-provoking themes challenges readers to reconsider the history of this land and the ongoing struggles faced by its indigenous peoples.

The Resilient Spirit of "An American Sunrise": A Reflection of Native American Identity

Published in 2017 and later republished as part of a larger collection, "An American Sunrise" is a poignant and thought-provoking book of poetry. Written by acclaimed author, activist, and musician Joy Harjo, it delves into themes of freedom, settler-colonialism, sin, youthfulness, and music.

The title poem, "An American Sunrise," serves as a powerful declaration of the enduring connection between Native American peoples and their ancestral land. This collection is a testament to the resilience and strength of Native American communities, despite the ongoing challenges they face.

The poems in "An American Sunrise" draw on both personal experiences and the history of Indigenous peoples, providing a unique and deeply personal perspective. As a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, the author's writing delves into complex issues such as colonization, loss, and cultural erasure.

Through vivid imagery and heartfelt emotion, "An American Sunrise" offers a poignant exploration of the Native American experience. From the struggle to maintain cultural identity to the intergenerational impact of trauma, the collection sheds light on the realities of being Native American in modern society.

By sharing her personal journey and the stories of her community, the author shines a spotlight on the ongoing struggles and injustices faced by Native American peoples. Yet, amidst the pain, the poems also celebrate the resilience, strength, and unwavering connection to culture and land.

Through the art of poetry, "An American Sunrise" invites readers to reflect on the legacy of colonialism and its ongoing impact on Indigenous communities. It serves as a call for a renewed understanding and respect for Native American people and their stories.

In essence, "An American Sunrise" is a powerful and captivating collection that offers a glimpse into the contemporary Native American experience. It is a must-read for those seeking a deeper understanding of the challenges and triumphs of Indigenous peoples, and a testament to the enduring power of storytelling and poetry.

Join Shiken For FREE

Gumbo Study Buddy

Explore More Subject Explanations

Try Shiken Premium for free

Start creating interactive learning content in minutes with Shiken. 96% of learners report 2x faster learning.
Try Shiken for free
Free 14 day trial
Cancel anytime
20k+ learners globally
Shiken UI showing questions and overall results.