Essay on Desperate Love in My Papa’s Waltz

Essay on Desperate Love in My Papa’s Waltz

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Desperate Love in My Papa’s Waltz


Angry words, punches, and belt buckles each may be thrown when a drunken parent becomes frustrated with his or her child. On the other hand, alcohol can also cause people to exuberantly sing or dance. In the poem "My Papa’s Waltz", Theodore Roethke describes the latter situation in a literal sense. However, a closer look at Roethke’s choice of words, the poem’s imagery, emotions, and irony reveals a painful and confusing encounter between a boy and his drunken Papa.

Roethke chooses specific words in his poem to alert the reader of the violent nature of the waltz. As the boy and his father waltz around the house, the small boy must hold "on like death" (Roethke 3). In this case, many words can describe the boy holding on tightly. Roethke uses the word "death" to emphasize the helplessness of the boy against his drunken father, just as we are helpless against the force of death (3). As they dance, Papa’s hand holds the boy’s wrist and one of Papa’s knuckles is "battered", a word which often describes abusive situations (10). Furthermore, Papa...

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