19 pages 38 minutes read

Sherman Alexie

On the Amtrak from Boston to New York City

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1993

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Symbols & Motifs

The Train

The Amtrak train is mentioned directly only in the title, yet it is the setting for the entirety of the poem. It is a means of transportation—a modern, high-speed marvel of utility and innovation—and a vehicle for tourism. Passengers are whisked along the countryside and are invited, like the woman in the poem, to view features of landscape and markers of historical or cultural interest. They cannot, however, directly interact with anything outside the confines of the train; passengers observe everything from a distance.

The speaker in the poem experiences more than one separation. They sit inside the train, behind metal and glass, untouched by the physical landscape. They are a visitor to this coast—a tourist by choice, traveling from Boston to New York City. But the speaker is also a Native American, one who has been made a tourist in their own land by the forces and effects of colonization. The train functions as a symbol of that alienation from land and history.

Walden Pond

Walden Pond’s connection to transcendentalist writer Henry David Thoreau and his book, Walden; or Life in the Woods (1854), has made the place a cultural symbol of philosophic contemplation, simple living, and love of nature.