The Actual Meaning of My Papa's Waltz by Theodore Roethke Essay

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The Actual Meaning of "My Papa's Waltz" by Theodore Roethke

Poetry is made to express the feelings, thoughts, and emotions of the poet. The reader can interpret the poem however they see fit. Critics are undecided about the theme of Theodore Roethke's "My Papa's Waltz." Some people believe that the poem is one of a happy exchange between a father and son. The more convincing interpretation is that it has a hidden message of parental abuse. Careful analysis of the keywords and each individual stanza back up this theory of child abuse by a violent and drunken father.

The word that is key to the poem is romp. Roethke states that "we romped until the pans / slid from the kitchen shelf" (5-6). The word is usually associated with
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Most people would not associate a joyous event and death. For instance, when someone is on a roller coaster, they hang on tight out of fear. The second stanza gives the details of how the father was knocking over pans and shelves. No fun event would require continuous destruction to the house. The reader also sees the mother in a seemingly helpless state as the father continues to damage the house. She seems to be in a state of dismay as her husband carries on his behavior. Her frown shows that his actions sadden her but she is powerless to stop him. One would think that a smile would be more appropriate. This supports the abuse aspect because she would not be frowning if it was a joyous exchange between the son and father.

In the last two stanza's, Roethke describes the vivid details of the beating. He describes how one hand clinches the boy's wrist. Clinch seems to be a rather strong word and it indicates a use of forceful grabbing. If this were a happy dance, the author would not use such a strong description. Lines 11-12 shows how the father tries to hit the son but due to his intoxication he misses and grazes the son's ear with the belt buckle. The fourth and final stanza sums up the feelings of the boy towards the father. The words seem to be directly spoken to the dad. This is not the first time this type of action has taken place. The reader gets this interpretation because the boy says," you beat time on my head"
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