Citizen: An American Lyric

Citizen: An American Lyric Literary Elements

Speaker or Narrator, and Point of View

Citizen switches between several speakers, although the reader may not be informed of these switches at all. In interviews, Rankine says that the stories are collected from a wide range of different people: black, white, male, and female. At times, the speaker also utilizes the second-person narrative voice, indicating that the reader is really the speaker. This method helps Rankine to establish a greater unity of people: instead of telling the story of one person, she hopes to show that this is a collective story for many.

Form and Meter

Prose-poetry, essay/poetry

Metaphors and Similes

1. "Someone claimed we should use our skin as wallpaper knowing we couldn't win" (84)

Wallpaper is a metaphor for the invisibility of black bodies, while also acknowledging the hypervisibility that they face at inopportune times. Unlike a painted wall, wallpaper draws attention to itself only insofar as the person is not used to its presence.

2. "The past is a life sentence, a blunt instrument aimed at tomorrow" (84)

The narrator in this section is not sure whether she agrees with the above statement, but recognizes its impact upon the self. This brings the reader's attention back to the conflict between the historical self and the 'self-self'.

3. "...soon we are willing to live with dust in our eyes" (185)

Dust in an eye is a metaphor for both constant discomfort as well as impaired perception of the world as it is meant to be.

Alliteration and Assonance

Cases of alliteration and assonance are incidental in this poetry collection.


From your neighbors calling the police on your friend outside the house, to your therapist thinking you are an intruder, to the waitress returning your credit card to your friend instead of you, the majority of Citizen's stories bring about intense dramatic irony.




United States of America; London


Indefatigable sighs

Protagonist and Antagonist

Race-consciousness vs. Racism

Major Conflict

The conflict is seen mostly through microaggressions, but also through political, economic, and policing events that range from local to national in scope. The theme of these conflicts is internalized racism and its many manifestations.


Rankine sharply points out that "I don't know how to end what doesn't have an ending" (188) where the climax would normally be. This dissatisfying ending is intentional.







Metonymy and Synecdoche

Rankine uses many different names to indicate the black person, from 'black body' to 'wallpaper' to 'bloodshot eyes'.