Some say “home is where the heart is. ” Home can be everything to some. Home is their safe comfort place they have in life. Home determines a sense of one’s identity. One poem called “The Youngest Daughter” by Cathy Song involves characters experiencing conflicting situations between the demands of their home and identity. One might think that this poem is simply about mothers versus daughters; however, this poem evokes a broader sense meaning that daughters are torn between either pulling away or pulling closer to home.
In one sense, the daughter in this poem is frustrated with her current situation and aspires to do more with her life, rather than devote her time doing what her mother thinks she should be doing. Despite this feeling, she knows she should be caring for her sick mother. The role she has in her home has conflicting messages. Using the elements of tone, narrative poem, and word choice, the poem can be explicated to show how it creates and resolves the meaning of conflict between mothers and daughters. “The Youngest Daughter” utilizes the narrative type poem, which helps create and resolve the conflict in the poem.
The main conflict in this poem is that the daughter has to choose between obligations and desires, while finding her own role in her home. A narrative poem tells a story, and this poem tells a story about a daughter taking care of her elderly mother. The poem is about what the daughter’s daily life is like. This shows the “obligations” part of her life. The first sentence of the poem is “the sky has been dark for many years. ” This implies that everything that has been going on with her taking care of her mother has been going on for many years.
Since her mother became ill, it has been the daughter’s obligation to take care of her. This obligation is based on cultural expectations. In many cultures, children are expected to take care of their parents once they age. The poem is organized into stanzas that are associated with a certain part of the story. One stanza describes what has been going on lately. Another is about “this morning. ” The last stanza is about what goes on “in the afternoons. ” Through the narrative type poem, the daughter is able to express the feeling that her identity is basically taking care of her mother.
This identity is also her role in the family. This role limits her own self-identity. Because she is busy caring for her mother, she is unable to develop a sense of self. She is torn between two things: growing away from her mother, and pulling closer to her mother. She knows she has to take care of her, so that aspect makes her seem to pull closer to her mother. Contrary to that, this daughter is a grown woman, and she has a very limited and conflicted life. Her life is devoted to the mother. This is seen by the story of the poem.
She wants to grow apart from her mother and do things in her life that interest her. The reader can see that the daughter wants to escape this whole situation because towards the end of the poem it says “She knows I am not to be trusted / even now planning my escape. ” The readers learn here that the mother doesn’t trust the daughter, for reasons unknown. The second line of the above quote shows the readers that this is what the daughter is currently doing to make her mother not trust her.
The daughter also desires that her mother’s health improve, because in the poem is says “As I toast to her health. Love and pity toward her aging mother clash with the feelings of resentment and entrapment of herself. “The Youngest Daughter” uses word choice to show the conflict of mothers versus daughters, and the daughter’s internal conflict of obligations and desires. The daughter uses middle diction to show her emotions. Like noted in a previous paragraph, the first sentence of the poem is “the sky has been dark for many years. ” This shows that the daughter has been dealing with her mother’s illness for quite some time, and she hasn’t been able to see the sun.
She hasn’t been able to do what she wants to do because she has been so overwhelmed with taking care of the mother and fulfilling her obligations. When describing the mother, the daughter says “her breathing was graveled / her voice gruff with affection. ” The word choice of graveled and gruff is interesting. This demonstrates the effort required to breathe and be affectionate. It’s almost as if the writer of the poem wanted the readers to hear what her breathing and voice sounded like by including those two words in there.
This implies in a way that the mother has an opinion with the situation too. These two words make these two lines more effective. The daughter says “I was almost tender / when I came to the blue bruises. ” This shows that the daughter feels sorry for what the mother has to go through. Tender is another interesting word choice. The poem also says “I soaped her slowly,” meaning that the daughter takes her time when washing her mother, because her life has been accustomed to nothing. Another aspect of obligations is that the daughter says “I scrubbed them with a sour taste in my mouth.
The daughter obviously doesn’t want to scrub the mother, but it is obligation, her duty, so she must. Using the sentence “We eat in the familiar silence” shows that there is tension between them, because if there was no tension, they would be talking when they are eating. Despite this tension, this still occurs each day, and they continue to follow the same routine. If this line just had said “We eat in silence,” it would have a much lesser effect on the poem as a whole. By adding the word “familiar,” it allows the reader to understand that eating that way is a commonality and part of a consistent routine.
The words “familiar silence” contrast each other. Familiar is something that has occurred so often that it becomes accustomed. And what is familiar in this poem? Silence. Silence, though it means quiet, is essentially nothing. Quietness, or nothing, has occurred so much that it is accustomed. The word choice is contrasting obligations with desires. The daughter is obligated to care for her mother. This is evident throughout the entire poem when the daughter describes everything she does for her mother.
Despite this, she desires to do something different than just solely care for her mother. This desire is evident when the poem says “She know I am not to be trusted / even now planning my escape. ” The daughter wants to escape, and the mother is aware of it. This contrast between obligations and desires makes the reader of the poem feel that this is an either/or situation. The daughter can either take care of the mother, or she can go off on her own. The last two lines of the poem are very meaningful: “A thousand cranes curtain the window / fly up in a sudden breeze. These word choices are effective because the words allow the readers to see an ending image.
It seems like the cranes flying away is associated with the daughter being set free and escaping her life. It’s ironic how the first line of the poem uses words that talk about the sky, and in the last few lines of the poem the cranes fly into the sky. This line is used as a way for the author of the poem to show that the resolution has occurred. By the end of the poem, the conflict of obligations versus desires is resolved.
One of the last lines of the poem says “As I toast to her health. This shows that the daughter finally realizes that caring for her mother is what’s best for her at this moment. By toasting for her health, she reveals that even though she is sick of caring for her mother, she would rather care for her mother than have her mother be dead. The daughter realizes that there will eventually be a time when the mother dies, and at that time the daughter will be able to do whatever she desires, but right now, her focus needs to be on her mother. The cranes flying into the sky reiterates this fact.
When this time comes, even though the daughter will be able to do what she wants, she will be without a mother. She will have no obligations, which in a sense is good for her, because she will be able to do what she wants, yet a part of her life will be missing. Death is always hard to deal with, and even though in the poem she talks about how she wants to escape, in reality she really would miss her mother. The tone is this poem is bittersweet and affectionate; children should care for their aging parents, yet children need to live their own lives.
In a way, the tone is also both happy and sad. The way the tone changes correlated with both of the conflicting sides of the poem. It’s happy in the way that the poet shows that there is affection and love between mothers and daughters, yet it is sad in the way that it shows that sometimes conflicts arise between mothers and daughters. This also explains how it is bittersweet. The tone shows that there are moral ties between children and their parents. These moral ties tie in with the obligational part of the conflict.
Morally, the daughter feels obliged to care for her mother. The speaker is the youngest daughter of a family, and her duty is to take care of her aging parent. As one can see, looking at a poem through elements can help a reader understand the meaning of it. In “The Youngest Daughter,” the poem creates the meaning of conflict between mothers and daughters related to the daughter either pulling closer or pulling away from family and having to choose between obligations and desires. The elements of tone, word choice, and narrative poem together effectively create this meaning.
In this poem, the home determines one’s identity. The daughter is conflicted between either pulling closer to her home life and her mother, or pulling away from it all and going after her own aspirations. Readers can relate to this poem because many people go through the same predicament in life: taking care of an aging parent. People do it because they love their family. Even though this daughter is having conflicting feelings about taking care of her mother, she does it anyways because family always comes first.
Courtney from Study Moose
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