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Theodore Roethke's My Papa's Waltz Poetry Analysis

The point of view is the actual perspective the story is presented to the reader. And the readers will interpret the utterance or the general story as the reflection of specific point of view (Ehrlich 4). The author is always supposed to choose which character of his story will be the lens that the reader is using to see and understand the story. Actually, one can say that if the author decided to use some particular character to narrate the story, the significance of this hero is noticeably increased (Card 67). There are several types of points of view in the literature. The first one is called ‘objective’, it restrains the reader purely to the outer reality without any interpretations or comments. The next is ‘first-person’, it is using the character within the plot to narrate of the story. The third one is named ‘third-person limited omniscient’, when all of the emotions and actions of only one particular character are described to the reader. And, finally, the last one is called ‘third-person omniscient’ and it gives the opportunity to the reader to know all the emotions, feelings and thoughts of all characters of the story. In this paper, we will dwell upon the first person point of view narration to discover all of the advantages and disadvantages of such strategy and to understand the aim of applying such a type of narration.

Theodore Roethke in his poem “My Papa's Waltz” is using the first person point of view. According to the Orson Scott Card, the writer can use the first person point of view only if the narrator saw and felt everything what is told in the story. Author is actually allowing readers to live in somebody else’s world, to see it through their eyes (109). Monika Fludernik is sure that the author uses the first person point of view to show something exciting what refers to the central protagonist of the story. And the fist person narrator is always an incarnated self (Fludernik, 2009). However, it is important to mention, that the first person narration is distant in time. Readers do not understand this while reading, because the authors are all of the time struggling to create the effect of immediacy, but when it comes to the analysis, one can see that the action took place in the past (Card 150).

In the poem by Theodore Roethke, readers notice that the author uses such personal pronouns as I in the first stanza (the third line), we in the second stanza (the first line), me in the forth stanza (the third line). Such personal pronoun in the possessive case as my in the second stanza (the third line), in the third stanza (the forth line) and finally in the forth stanza (the first line). All the above mentioned information proves that the author is showing the story from the first person point of view. Readers can see through the story that the narrator was actually involved into everything what is described. The fact that the story is told from the retrospective first person point of view is also obviously observed, as the narrator himself mentions that he was a small boy. Anyway, thanks to the fact that the story is told in the first person readers forget that the narrator is probably an adult now and one can see all of the actions as if they are happening in the moment of reading.


Readers should also understand that they are getting the character’s attitude at the time of the events; they are not getting his memory of this attitude, and are actually receiving the same feelings as the small boy did during that waltz. If the story was not told by the main character, reader’s perception of the father might have been different. Thanks to the type of narration one accepts the father with the same maturity, not condemning him, because the child cannot condemn the father, no matter how he is behaving. There is one more evidence that helps to perceive the father as something inevitable not condemning him, and here the mother’s reaction is meant, who took everything with endurance, yet being her ‘countenance could not unfrown itself’. The disadvantage here might be the fact that the readers might be misled by the narrator. Susan Ehrlich is convinced that the context in the discourse is very important. However, the first person point of view is often avoiding it, not providing any comment, relying only on the attitude on the narrator (Ehrlich 19). The huge and crucial advantage is that the first person gives the sense of life. Readers are concerned about what will happen with the narrator and the main character in one person.  It is obvious that this is only one-side point of view. Readers do not know what else was happening at the moment, and even the way the other characters were perceiving the situation is interpreted by the narrator.

Readers are as if locked in the narrators mind, they cannot leave it and look on the situation objectively. Readers might be frustrated, because the author cannot provide them with the information that is beyond the narrator’s knowledge. One knows only one truth, which is witnessed together with the character and it helps to perceive the information provided as more factual (Card 163). While reading the poem by Theodore Roethke, readers can feel that the first person point of view help to understand something more intimate, not something obvious. The child behaves so mature only because he pays more attention not to the father actions, but to his intentions. However readers may doubt the boy’s maturity and experience, may consider him unreliable, as there is no evidence that the narrator wanted to tell the truth and was not misleading.

As one can see from the analysis of this poem, there are a lot of advantages and disadvantages while applying first person point of view narration. One can easily convey some internal, thus unexpressed thoughts of the protagonist narrator. This type of point of view is helping the readers to be as close to the actions of characters as possible, moreover, they can feel the immediacy of action. People are perceiving the story not as themselves, but as the small boy, they are totally involved into the memories and the attitude of a particular person. Readers can participate in the story, because it is told from the inside, and can feel really deeply the sense of life and the immediacy of the story. However, on the other side, readers can be very easily mislead, as they are allowed to see only one point of view and do not know that objective reality. As a matter of fact such type of narration might be used to purposely hide the whole truth from readers; it can easily create a special effect at the end of story, when the whole truth will be revealed. The author is using first person narration to help the readers experience some situations while working with the text, what might help them make real life conclusions without actually taking part in the situation. This narration helps to understand something intimate, all deep thought and emotions of the protagonist narrator and not something that is obvious thanks to the comments of the author. Readers are allowed to make their own conclusions; they can have their own thoughts about something that is happening in the story. If readers know the attitudes of all characters, they cannot feel and understand main characters as deep as they do when the author uses first person narration. Moreover, it is especially important, if the narration comes from the protagonist hero, because if the author has chosen him or her to do the narration, they play the most crucial role in the text.

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