Mean Streets The subject of Bruce Springsteen s Streets of Philadelphia has to do with a person walking on city streets, but the theme focuses on a certain aspect of the person. The poem describes how easily one can lose his or her identity when no one around knows who they are and how others do not see the neglect and abandonment towards these people. Springsteen develops the theme by using poetic elements such as setting, imagery, and tone and feeling. The setting is the streets of Philadelphia. In big cities there are often thousands of people who walk the street every day.
Few of those people live on the streets or notice those who do. Although there are very many people who live in the city it is still hard for people to find help. Springsteen writes, Oh brother are you gonna leave me Wast in away On the streets of Philadelphia. (6) This represents a cry for help to the people that the speaker is able to see.
None of the people around the speaker offer a response to his cries. The lack of concern towards persons who live on the city streets shows through neglect the people of the city show them. Imagery helps the reader develop a good sense of what the speaker is feeling and thinking. In the first stanza the image of someone who is wearing clothes that are dirty and ripped appears when the speaker describes himself as, bruised and battered (1) and by saying, My clothes don t fit me no more. (16) The speaker says, …
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my legs felt like stone, (9) allowing the reader to picture a person who seems cramped and tired. Springsteen produces an image so the reader can see this person and relate that to the others the reader may have seen on the streets. The tone of this poem is sad and lonely. Parts of this poem show the reader s low self-esteem and loss of identity. The speaker starts by saying, I couldn t tell what I felt I was unrecognizable to myself. (1) This tell the reader that the speaker’s confusion makes it difficult to be in touch with his or her feelings.
When the speaker says, I heard the voices of friends vanished and gone, (10) the reader feels sorry for this person for being abandoned by those he held close to his heart. Springsteen makes the speaker seem abandon, not only by his friends but by God when he writes, Ain t no angel gonna greet me. (14) When the speaker says, At night I could hear the blood in my veins Black and whispering as the rain… , it helps develop the mood of sadness and loneliness. The reference to night adds a darkness to the overall tone and feeling. Springsteen s wrote this poem as a song lyric.
The words are poetic and descriptive. He does a good job of using tone and feeling, setting and imagery to develop this poem. Springsteen draws the reader in and relates, on some level, how the speaker feels. The poem is being told through the eyes of someone who is struggling with life and personal tribulations. The reader cannot help feeling compassion for the speaker because of his or her situation.
When the reader put his or her self into the speaker s position, it is possible to see the problem of neglect and abandonment that is being overlooked in society.