In the minds of most people, the words, "hard work" and "heavy labor" carry a negative connotation. What these words imply is not something that is generally welcomed with enthusiasm but is often accepted either by force or obligation. Marge Piercy's poem "To Be of Use" conveys an opposing connotation about the idea of work. The central theme of the poem is that satisfaction, gratification, and self-fulfillment can be attained by using one's capabilities to serve a functional purpose in life, for it is the opinion of the speaker that an idle existence has no value or significance because it is worthless, vain, futile, and pointless. Piercy uses figurative language, imagery, symbolism, description, and details to develop this theme throughout the poem. Piercy begins developing the theme in the first stanza by describing "The [type of] people [she loves] the best" (1). Piercy states that they "jump into work head first/without dallying in the shallows..." (2-3). With this imagery Piercy reveals that she admires individuals who are not afraid of work; rather, they tackle their jobs "head first/without dallying" ( ); in other words, they are not lazy and do not delay or procrastinate the completion of their duties. Piercy adds that the people she regards highly "... swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight" (4). With this image Piercy indicates that these adored individuals work with so much confidence and diligence that often they become so busy that their work puts distance between them and those with whom they associate or live. Further, Piercy declares that "They seem to become natives of that element, / ...
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... the fruits of a person's hard labor will linger to give honor to their memory after their death. However, Piercy adds that "they were made to be used" to indicate that this won't be the case if a person's labor is not the fruitful productive type. Piercy concludes by stating that "The pitcher cries for water to carry and a person for work that is real" (25-26). With this figurative language Piercy develops the theme by affirming that people need to be willing to work hard in order to reach the satisfaction of accomplishing something that is meaningful in their lives.
In her poem, Piercy developed the theme of success through active participation in hard work through her use of language.
Piercy, Marge. "To Be of Use." Responding to Literature. 2nd ed. Ed. Judith A. Stanford. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1996. 596.
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