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After reading the poem entitled “Youth”, I felt that James Wright was not only describing the life of his father but also the lives of the many other factory workers in the Ohio Valley. Many of these workers had either dropped out of school or went straight to the factories after high school, never really getting a chance to enjoy their lives as young `````adults. I think that has something to do with the title of this poem. It’s clear that Wright knew his father and the other men were not satisfied with their jobs and just chose not to speak about it. These factory workers slaved away and then came home “quiet as the evening” probably because they were content to just be relaxing at home with their families. They knew that this was their way of life and they had to do it, even if they had big dreams to someday get away. I think that Wright was also trying to make a point that these men who worked so hard every day were not valued as much as they should have been. These men did not have the education to get a higher paying job but they did have the proper skills and knowledge to work in the factories. I like that James Wright mentioned Sherwood Anderson in this poem as I enjoy his work. Anderson left his Ohio hometown for Chicago to pursuit bigger and better things because he knew if he stayed in the area, he would be unhappy. However, it is a little ironic that Anderson one day just got up and left in the middle of writing and was said to have a mental breakdown.
I can definitely see what Wright was communicating with this poem. I had a somewhat depressed feeling after reading it, but I don’t know how one could read this and NOT feel that way. I also felt a little sad because I have been around people like this all of my life. Family, friends, friends of the family- a large majority of these people worked in factories and in the steel mills. As a child, I did not realize just how hard working these people were but of course as I grew older I started to understand. No one really spoke of it, as Wright also expressed in the poem.
As far as what was important to me in the experience of the poem, I felt that the fact that I could actually relate was important.
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Wright begins this poem with, “Strange bird, His song remains secret….” Of course I looked at this literally, and then after reading the entire poem I took a more figurative approach. The bird symbolizes the factory workers who did not speak of their work and who “worked too hard to read books”. Wright then starts describing his father and the way that he worked so hard for fifty years and seemed to be stuck there. Both James and his brother never heard their father speak of this but they knew that he probably did “shudder with hatred in the cold shadow of grease”. In the final stanza, Wright says, “He will be getting dark soon, and loom through new snow”. Again, looking at this literally we could say that “He will be getting dark soon” is talking about the dirty and greasy appearance that one may get after working long hours in the factory. And then they “loom through new snow” when their shift is finally over. Figuratively, we could say that “getting dark” means shifting into a depressed, emotionless state while working. The same thing for “new snow,” except more happy this time to be done with their shift. The very last lines in the poem are most depressing because Wright is trying to show that even after his fathers death, he is still stuck right there where he slaved away for 50 years.
Overall, my experience with the poem was a good one because I understood and, in a way, related to it. I would characterize this poem as being dark and frustrating and a little claustrophobic. We can sense that James Wright did not enjoy the factories and the way that his father did not speak of his work. Wright talks about his fathers work by describing him being “Caught among girders that smash the kneecaps of dumb honyaks.” Also, because no one ever speaks out about their working conditions makes the poem a little frustrating. This poem also made me feel a little claustrophobic because it seems that even in death, the empty souls of the factory workers still linger along the Ohio River.