Coney Island: Alone in a Crowd
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Is the United States the greatest nation in the world or the greatest show on earth? This is the question Martí put before his readers after his visit to Coney Island, not long after his arrival in New York City. Substance versus appearance, compassion versus greed, sacrifice versus pleasure, depth of spirit versus shallow optimism, the common good versus common interests. Martí wanted to show his readers the force of these dualities at the heart of the culture of the United States. He presented such contrasts not as bookish abstractions but in the carnival of humanity of an amusement park, newly built on the edge of the city. He wanted to bring his readers an image of the dazzling extravaganza by the beach, but he also wanted them to cast a critical eye on a place exclusively designed for “amusing the million[s],” a popular phrase used later as the title of John Kasson’s 1978 book about Coney Island. Coney Island dazzled the visitor, but Martí also saw it as the place of an unsettling “dismemberment of traditional community” (Ramos 195). Through the spectacle of Coney Island, Martí set out to define a Latin difference, a narrative of Latin spirituality to counter the extravagant materialism of the North. It is a simplistic formula, but it worked. Its fallout is still with us.
KeywordsCommon Good Amusement Park Human Misery Beer Hall North American Culture
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