The motif of the flesh and the body is one of the main sources of conflict within "An Agony. As Now." The speaker himself feels an alienation from his body, which leads to many different kinds of "pain." The pain is described in physical form, as if it were felt in the body; and yet, because it is his alienation from his body that is causing the pain, we see how it affects his psychological state. The tortures of the flesh and the body affect other characters within the poem as well, including people whose flesh is described as being "white hot metal" (line 38). The bodies in this poem seem less like human flesh machine, created out of industrial materials and devoid of emotion. This motif expands into the major theme of separation between the body and the soul.
The description of bodies as metallic in this poem constitutes symbolism because they represent an idea or quality rather than objective truth. Everyone knows that human bodies are made of flesh, not metal, but Baraka uses this symbolism to show readers how the body as we normally see it—soft, familiar, our "home"—can become alien, hard, and unfamiliar. When the body becomes an object and is seen as something separate from the self, it can be used by other people and can turn on the very person who constitutes it. Baraka also uses "metal" to symbolize flesh because it reminds the reader of industrialization and capitalism—two systems, from the Marxist point-of-view, that enforce the usage of bodies as objects of commerce rather than human beings.
An Agony. As Now Questions and Answers
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