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One of the central themes of “We Real Cool” and “My Papa’s Waltz” is the complications of developing one’s identity during youth. Both of these poems deal with the concepts of defining one’s self in youth, as well as interacting with the influences in one’s life.
In “My Papa’s Waltz,” this is evident in the first few lines, in which the narrator states “The whiskey on your break/Could make a small boy dizzy;/ But I hung on like death; Such waltzing was not easy” (Roethke).
There is an evident relationship between a father and a son, and it is apparent that this relationship could be turbulent one as signified by lines like “The hand that held my wrist/Was battered on one knuckle.” As such, this poem depicts both a loving and reflective tale of a boy’s relationship with his father while growing up.
“We Real Cool” deals with similar experiences and the complications of growing up, and there are some ominous characteristics found in this poem as well.
This is evidenced by words like “lurk” and “strike” (Brooks). There is a presence of repetition that is used as a device to strengthen the evident youth of the characters in the “We Real Cool,” given that the rhymes have a sort of repetitive nature without much consistent deviation. This also helps to illustrate the youth of the children in the poem, further solidify the conflicting influences that they experience and provides some level of insight into the world around them.
(Brooks, 1960) The usage of hyperbole is evident in both poems, such as when the narrator in “My Papa’s Waltz” states “You beat time on my head/ With a palm caked hard by dirt.” This provides a level of emphasis into the overall nature of the father’s abusive tendencies, with violent connotations behind the word “beat.” Furthermore, the statement “But I hung on like death” is another form of hyperbole and metaphor which also provides some level of allusion to the father’s potentially violent ways. (Roethke, 2016) Dialect plays a huge part in “We Real Cool,” such as the statement “we” before the author proceeds to describe the events that they commit. This is intentionally not grammatically correct because it helps to assert the lack of provide insight into their lack of experience or factors such as their socioeconomic status.
Both music and alcohol help to weave the narratives and environments in which the children find themselves; jazz and gin are the complements in “We Real Cool” to whiskey and the waltz in “My Papa’s Waltz.” While these are similar devices used to correlate the nature of the children’s respective experiences, there is a subtle yet important difference in the way that they are expressed (Stavros, 2013). In “We Real Cool,” it is evident that the children use these things to cope with the nature of their environment while it appears as if the child in “My Papa’s Waltz” is reacting to these different elements of his father’s character. There are various elements such as hyperbole and dialect that help to assert the prominence of these issues and the nature of the children’s realities. Both authors use these different elements and literary devices to create the environments of the narrators, which asserts the level of response that they have and the nature of their lives and the relationship that they have to things like music and alcohol.
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