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Essay on Thom Gunn’s In the Tank - A Manifestation of the Human Consciousness

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Thom Gunn’s In the Tank - A Manifestation of the Human Consciousness


A thorough analysis of subject material and literary style exhibits the complexity of establishing a strong thematic base, which does not deter from the ebb and flow of a poetic medium .  In Thom Gunn’s In the Tank, a felon is overwhelmed by emotion at the state of his existence in prison.  In what appears to be a moment’s reflection, Thom Gunn’s narrator in In the Tank reveals an abundance of sentiment pertaining to his environment.  From meticulous description of the prison environment, to the exasperated feeling of loneliness and dejection, Gunn lures an audience into a seeming first-hand account of prison-life.

However, a broader subject matter lay hidden in his prose.  The prison environment is indicative of the prisoner’s mental state, just as the narrator’s role in the commentary is pivotal in understanding the innerworkings of the incarcerated man’s condition.
The title of the poem acts as an initial introduction to the tone and language used by Thom Gunn, and gives many hints into the complexity of subject matter.  A “tank,” is an informal term for prison.  The implication that Gunn suggests from the title is that the poem bases itself on a first hand-narrative of some aspect of prison life, recounted by a person with personal experience of life ‘in the tank.’  The tone of the poem is established by Gunn before any material is even considered. An informal sense of expertise is entrusted in the narrator, due to the fact that he (presuming that the narrator is a man, like the subject of the poem) has a unique perspective in which to operate.  The audience yields to the narrator’s insight and accepts his dialogue as factual, since it is an implie...


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...on and personification of the impact that the ‘tank’ has had on his life.

Due to the narrator’s understanding of prison life, and the subtle implication of a controlled environmental situation, In the Tank provides a psychological account of how the human spirit is demoralized.  The “man’s” name is never give, since Tank is not a poem about an individual in person, but how a collective consciousness performs under the scrutiny of not only prison officials, but the darkness itself.  The institution shapes the convict, and even his mind-set, since the description of the cell matches the fundamental properties of a “box.”  The subliminal aspects of In the Tank are evident in the “man’s” unfortunate conformity to the norms of the prison.

Works Cited

Gunn, Thom.  “In the Tank.”  Contained in Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, 2nd ed.  New York, New York: 1988


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