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Theodore Roethke - Essay Example

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My Papa’s Waltz by Theodore Roethke Theodore Roethke’s poem, My Papa’s Waltz, delves into the relationship between a young boy and his intoxicated father. While the dance that takes place may at first appear to be nothing short of child abuse, a drunken man’s rough handling of his vulnerable boy, the narrator of the poem - the poet as a child - is accepting of his father’s reckless behavior…
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Download file to see previous pages There are three themes in My Papa’s Waltz, which are family, admiration, and power. As previously mentioned, there seems to be familiarity in the behavior of the father. The son is not scared, and though he does not appear to enjoy the romp around the kitchen, there is revealed to be both a trust and need for his father, which makes itself known in the line “Still clinging to your shirt” (Roethke line 16). Despite his father’s drunken countenance and his mother’s disapproval, this is a safe, comfortable family life for the boy regardless of its moments of unconventionality. This theme leads into admiration, which is again displayed in the boy clinging to his father. Even in his drunken state, the boy enjoys the time with his father, taking delight in the impromptu waltz, while also showing respect for his mother, which can be seen in how he notices her frown as they upset pots and pans. Power, especially that between a parent and child, encompasses the whole poem. The boy’s father determines how the boy dances and when he goes to bed, impressing the strength of his power as the boy simply lets everything happen. Setting is an intriguing aspect of the poem. The poem was written in the 1940s, so it can be assumed that the setting of the poem is roughly in the same time frame. In our modern age, many readers will read this poem and their minds will automatically jump to thoughts of child abuse and endangerment, and alcoholism. However, during the time that this poem was penned, the behavior that the boy was experiencing was normal (Wagoner 259). It was not uncommon for working men to come home after a long day and enjoy a drink; it was hardly alcoholism, but an occasional means of relaxing. Setting speaks a lot for the contents of the poem. If this poem were written in the 21st century, the story would take on completely different, questionable meaning. It was not difficult for the boy to accept his father’s behavior because it was not out of the ordinary for that time. It may have been reckless, yet since the boy knew what to expect and understood that he wasn’t in harm’s way, it wasn’t dangerous or thoughtless on his father’s part. The tone of the poem can be considered in a similar way. There is nothing to suggest that the boy is frightened by his father’s behavior. “But I hung on like death: Such waltzing was not easy” (lines 3-4) may suggest otherwise, that the boy is holding on for dear life as his father dances him around the kitchen. Nevertheless, this concept is contradicted by the following lines, “We romped until the pans / Slid from the kitchen shelf” (lines 5-6). The use of the word romp indicates enjoyment, that the boy is having fun with his father, though the waltzing might be difficult. Furthermore, “then waltzed me off to bed” (line 15) suggests a pleasant ending to their dance; the waltz continues as long as possible, and there is something akin to sadness as the dance comes to an end. The boy appreciate his father’s company, and trusted his father completely from the start of the dance until its end at bedtime. The poem lacked tones of fear and worry as the boy was safely in his father’s arms. This poem is riddled with symbolism to support the boy’ ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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