“My Papa’s Waltz” Example Essay Outline Par 1) Introduction & Tone The speaker in “My Papa’s Waltz”, a poem by Theodore Roethke, is a man reminiscing on his childhood relationship with his father. In particular, it is about how his father would pick him up in the evening and dance with him in the kitchen. Through this memory, Roethke conveys the nostalgia of reflecting on one’s childhood, as well as the fact that it is sometimes tinged with a painful awareness of human flaws. Par 3) What characterizes Text A and makes it unique? What are the main techniques that the author uses to convey the tone, thoughts and ideas in Text A? List your main points. Roethke uses three main techniques to convey this bittersweet nostalgia. 1) He characterizes the father using verbs, adjectives and imagery that suggest his strength, his working class background and possibly violence. 2) He characterizes the son as small and fragile, yet persistently devoted to his father. 3) He uses rhythm and structure to suggest a waltz, emphasizing that the father and son are dancing in a synchronized way, which symbolizes their close relationship. Par 4) Main Point 1: Roethke characterizes the father using verbs, adjectives & imagery that suggest his strength, his working class background and possibly violence. Subpoint a) He has enough whiskey on his breath to “make a small boy dizzy.” (line2). Suggests that the father is drunk. Further emphasized by the fact that he cannot dance to the rhythm: “At every step you missed/ My right ear scraped a buckle.” (lines 11-12) Subpoint b) His hand is “battered on one knuckle” (line 10) and his palm is “caked hard by dirt” (line 14). This suggests that he does manual labour for a living. Subpoint c) The word “romped” is used to describe the dancing, suggesting that it is playful (line 5), yet it sends the pans flying from the kitchen shelf, to the mother’s consternation. Also, the father is said to “beat time on my head” (line 13) and he doesn’t seem concerned that the boy’s “right ear scraped a buckle” (line 12). These suggest an uncomfortably rough interaction, perhaps even violence. Par 5) Main Point 2: Roethke characterizes the speaker’s younger self as small and fragile, yet persistently devoted to his father. Subpoint a) The speaker’s younger self is said to have “hung on like death”(line 3). The mention of death suggests devotion until death, but also a relationship that might not have been cheerful or easy. This is confirmed in line 4: “Such waltzing was not easy.” Subpoint b) The boy’s right ear repeatedly “scraped a buckle” (line 12) while dancing, and this shows that the boy is around six or seven years old, since his height only comes up until his father’s waist. Subpoint c) The boy withstands the father’s “beating time” on his head (line line13) all the way until he is brought to bed, “still clinging to your shirt” (line 16). The fact that the father’s shirt is enough to support him also suggests how small the boy is. Par 6) Main Point 3: Roethke uses rhythm and structure to suggest a waltz, emphasizing that the father and son are dancing in a synchronized way, which symbolizes their close relationship. Subpoint a) The poem is consistently written in iambic trimeter, which sets a strong waltz rhythm. The dance is made more lyrical through the abab rhyme scheme. Subpoint b) The ‘dance’ is described for four verses, emphasizing the fact that the boy hangs onto his father for some time. Subpoint c) The content of the poem contrasts sharply with the form. The father is drunk and unable to keep his steps in line with the music, which creates irony. Par 7) Conclusion Theodore Roethke is pointing out, through this poem, that many times we seek to preserve memories as positively and sentimentally as we can. We try to form our lives into pleasing narratives, or composed “dances”. Yet much of life is much more rough and flawed, and this is shown in the poet’s indirect characterization. The speaker who is now a man, is obviously remembering times of regular, playful physical closeness to his father, as shown by the dance. Yet, “such waltzing was not easy”. A father who comes home after the pressures of the work day, and perhaps more than a few drinks, may not be the most gentle and sensitive of fathers. In fact, from an outsider’s view, he might be considered abusive. Yet, the poem shows how despite his father’s roughness, the speaker remembers how tightly he clung to his shirt and thus, how much he valued these times of togetherness. This poem shows that as we get older, we might see the imperfections in our upbringing much more clearly, but also the love of our parents. These two, Roethke shows, are not mutually exclusive.