Friday, November 2, 2007

"My Papa's Waltz" Analysis


In the poem "My Papa's Waltz" by Theodore Roethke, the speaker is reflecting on a childhood experience involving his father. Some people think that this poem is one of a happy relationship between a father and son. Other people believe that this poem has a hidden message of parental abuse. In my point of view, the imagery and language, the symbolism, and tone in the poem gave me the impression of the love between the father and son, not of an abusive relationship. You may get the reaction of abuse because; the line, “whiskey on your breath could make a small boy dizzy” suggests the dance was not a joyful one. Also lines, “hung on like death”, and “beat time on my head” might even lead the reader to think the father is abusive to the boy. But really what this poem is about, a father comes home drunk and happy and starts to dance the waltz with his son. In line 3, “but I hung on like death”, the boy hung onto his shirt not because of fear but he didn’t want to fall of while dancing with his father. And if the child was getting beat his mother would have reacted more than just a frown, “my mother’s countenance could not unfrown itself” (Line 7-8) the mother was angry because her pots and pans were flying everywhere, but was trying not to laugh at the father and son. Roethke’s father Otto Roethke hands were rough and dirty “With a palm caked hard by dirt” (Line 13) because he worked in a greenhouse, not because he would always abuse the child. The young boy is breathless because of all the playing around with his father. In line 15, “still clinging to your shirt” the boy is holding onto his father’s shirt because he doesn’t want to go to bed and continue to play with his father. As you can see the poem does not suggest an abusive environment, but is a strong bond of love and playfulness between father and son.

13 comments:

laudia said...

This is a wonderful analysis because it answered my questions and confirmed my believes. Thank you.

Bowers said...

I agree with almost all of your statements about the Waltz being a positive experience between the father and the boy, but in my opinion you added a few details that aren't explained by any other lines in the poem. for instance, you said the mother was angry and trying not to laugh...it doesn't say anything about the mother holding back a laugh, it just says that she was frowning. If the father was abusive to the boy all the time, don't you think he would be abusive towards the mother as well? My point of view is that if the mother and the boy were abused, what would stop the father from beating the mother if she tried interfering in his alcohol fueled rage? Another example is when you said that the boy was out of breath from playing with his dad. This isn't a major problem, it's just not in the poem.

Urbanknights said...

Olga

I completely agree with this analysis and I cannot understand how anyone can detect abuse in what seems to me an innocent play between father and son

Maxwell said...

bull shit timmy

Maxwell said...

you r fkin retarded
go die in a hole

abryant288 said...

Very helpful in understanding this poem, thanks.

skigirl said...

"My mother's countenance
Could not unfrown itself"
"countenance" can be defined as expression that offers approval or sanction : moral support. Could it be she is looking on with tolerance of her husband's antics? Maybe he is just a happy drunk who had a long day at work and is happy to see his son before he goes to sleep.

Cutie Angel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cutie Angel said...

Well said... I agree with that too :)

mahcawk said...

Where the hell did you get that his father works in a greenhouse? It says nothing of the sort. Weirdo.

mahcawk said...

Where the hell did you get that his father works in a greenhouse? It says nothing of the sort! Weirdo.

Ralene Miller said...

When I first read it, I could easily see how some would interpret it as an abusive scene between a young boy and a drunken father. The "dance" can be interpreted to be the father chasing the boy around the kitchen trying to catch him in a fit of drunken anger. The battered knuckles possibly damaged in previous, frequent brawls. Given the time when the poem was written, it was often seen as not being a woman's place to step in when it came to discipline in the household. And even today it's not that uncommon to see one parent willingly or unwillingly standing by while abuse goes on. The beat time on my head can be interpreted as the actual physical abuse. Then to end with the child clinging to the father's shirt on his way to bed can be compared to known cases of abuse ending with seemingly heartfelt appologies that make everything "okay" until the next time it happens.

Since my first reading, I have studied quite a bit about this poem. With a little background research into the author the notion of abuse is pretty easily dispelled. The poem was written about the author's father who did work in a greenhouse to address a previous comment. The poem even alludes to it with the description of hands caked with dirt. The author is described as having a deep respect and reverence for his father who he loved tremendously.

Saksham Gupta said...

i think its about how childrens dads were leaving for the draft in WW2 and how they wanted to cling on to them