32 pages 1 hour read

Joy Harjo

An American Sunrise

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 2017

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Poem Analysis

Analysis: “An American Sunrise”

“An American Sunrise” uses first-person narrative, but it uses the “we” pronoun instead of the “I” to immediately set a communal tone. It summons the notion of a larger universal truth with which the speaker aligns. She is among her friends (the present “we”), but she is also among her ancestors (a lineage of “we”), which is made clear when she says, “We / were surfacing the edge of our ancestors’ fights, and ready to strike” (Lines 1-2).

The idea of fighting and resisting is present from the beginning, and with the continual return to “we,” this sense of community and power begins to mount. There is also a hint of otherness created when the speaker says, “We / were the heathens, but needed to be saved from them” (Lines 7-8). The introduction of “them,” represented here as “Christians” (Line 7) increases a tension between the speaker and her outside world. As long as she is inside the bar with her people, able to “sing” (Line 5), she is at home, and knows peace and joy. But once she leaves this space, she must encounter others who label her and her kind as moral and spiritual deviants, even “Devil[s]” (Line 7).