In Martin Espada’s “Latin Night at the Pawnshop,” the poet examines the Latin culture during Christmas time in a young, but still growing community of Latino immigrants. The poem proposes that during some time in America, people of Latino descent could not enjoy themselves during the holidays as they would if they were in their own country. Therefore, the theme of the poem is heavily influenced by the demise of Latin culture in America. Espada augments his poem to make the theme clear by using the following elements of poetry: diction and tone, symbols, and imagery.
Diction and tone play a critical role in Espada’s poem. In the first line, Espada uses what I think to be the most important word in the whole poem, “apparition”, to bring about a vision he has of a salsa band through the window of a pawnshop. The word apparition means a ghostlike image. By evaluating this word and its context, the poem itself has created a tone right away. We can say that the mood of this poem is very gloomy and depressing when all one can see is a ghost and nothing else. The poem then continues with descriptive words to describe other aspects. For instance, the word “gleaming” is introduced. The word gleaming means to shine brightly. By introducing this word, the poet draws emphasis on how important this salsa band is to him during Christmas. However, locked in the shop are “gleaming” instruments that can’t play no more and Christmas to him is left in utter silence.
Moreover, Espada mentions two distinct colors, a “golden trumpet” (line 4) and a “silver trombone” (line 5). Both silver and gold help represent the time of Christmas. Almost all Christmas trees use silver and gold ornaments as a decorative feature. Also, the poem ends with another word worth noting, “morgue”. A morgue is a place where dead bodies are kept. Ironically, during Christmas, we don’t associate death with such a joyful time. However, in this poem, a connotation for the word morgue could include death. Now, putting all these elements together, we can conclude that Espada is revealing a very dark Christmas he had gone through. A Christmas where there was no trumpet blowing, no trombone playing, no congas drumming, no maracas swinging, no tambourines shaking, and that all present was just the thought of it-no real Christmas.
Espada also uses symbols to further develop his point. The three major symbols in this poem are indeed the pawnshop, the instruments, and the price tags. First, the essence of the pawnshop itself is important because it tells a story, beyond itself. Sometimes money gets in the way of a person’s happiness. As a result, we pawn the stuff we really cherish for a quick buck. Espada is trying to explain that on top of the struggles Latinos face, they also must sacrifice the things they love. Second, the instruments tell us a great deal about the demise of Latin culture in America.
Instead of being played and making great music during the holidays, they sit there unused. Espada in his poem creates an unwanted feeling. Lastly, the price tags that resemble that of a dead man’s toe are equally important. The tickets symbolize the presence of death where there should be life. The Latin culture in the town of Chelsea is completely dead. Latinos have given up on their culture in place where it’s not truly accepted. These elements create the point Espada is trying to express.
Imagery is also an important aspect to this poem. The poet creates imagery that attacks several senses and by doing so, it also helps pinpoint the importance of different ideas. Espada writes, “gleaming in the Liberty loan pawnshop window,” (line 2). As one reads, you can’t help but imagine seeing this bright light coming out through a window and showing you a salsa band. Furthermore, Espada mentions several instruments. With this inclusion, one can imagine hearing the sounds of these lovely instruments playing coherently and in sync together.
However, Espada also writes, “all the price tags dangling like the city morgue ticket on a dead man’s toe,” (lines 7,8,9). This image develops a kind of chilly and nervous feeling about what’s actually going on in the poem. All in all, by putting these sources of imagery together, you notice what the poet is trying convey. Espada is drawing our attention to a salsa band and all of its instruments, but in the end things aren’t always what we want or expect. The Latino culture is nothing more than an illusion, in a land that does not treat its immigrants well.
Thus, in “Latin Night at the Pawnshop,” Espada creates a poem that expresses his concerns about Latin culture in Massachusetts in the late 1980’s by using different elements of poetry. The power of diction and tone, symbols, and imagery, enrich the central theme the poet wants to make. Espada does a great job converting one simple moment, into a thousand words and ideas.
Courtney from Study Moose
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