Birthday Cake Essay

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For many people a birthday marks a day of festivities: inviting family and friends over for a celebration with a meal, presents, and the popular cutting of the birthday cake. However, I believe that Paul Goodman’s “Birthday Cake” depicts a painful and upsetting scene with the celebration of a birthday. Through his choice of words, images portrayed in the poem, and symbols, Goodman reveals a dark point of view on this special day: birthdays celebrate death rather than life for the old. The first clue of the painful reminder of death is the…show more content…
Goodman describes the cake as a “fiery crown” that is going “through the darkened room advancing.” Reading this, I picture the image of a candle-lit cake being brought into a dark room to the speaker. The fire from the candles light up the room as it travels deeper into the room. Symbolically, “the darkened room advancing” represents the darkness that terminates old age—death. The birthday cake with candles fills the dark room with light, but the speaker will blow out the candles and the room will be dark again. Death is the dark room that is approaching. Like blowing out the candle fires, the life of the speaker will fade as well. The birthday cake symbolizes the old age, and ultimately death, of the speaker. The fifth and sixth stanzas confirm that the speaker has only a few years left to live, “among our savage folk / that have few festivals.” However, the speaker mentions the birthday cake “is still the most loveliest sight.” I imagine the speaker experiencing nostalgia, reflecting on past birthdays when he was happier and younger. This is the only positive connection Goodman makes with the birthday cake. Unfortunately, this tone is reserved only for the second stanza because frustration takes over in the first and third stanzas. Furthermore, Goodman shows a nostalgic, emotional tone in the second stanza as opposed to the frustrated tone in the first. The latter consists of short, abrupt verses consisting of cacophony.
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