“My Papa`s Waltz” Example Essay Outline

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“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.
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