Cutting an onion breaks cells in its skin causing a reaction that results to the formation of volatile sulfur compound which, when mixed with tears coating our eyes, becomes sulfuric acid. This triggers the tear ducts to produce more tears to alleviate the imbalance in acidity the irritant has caused; the longer the eyes are exposed to the acid the greater the quantity of tears produced. Sue Kwock Kim uses this certain property of an onion to tackle a specific human idiosyncrasy.
Monologue for an Onion discusses how humans have the tendency to lie to themselves in pursuit of false hopes through dramatic situation, tone, and symbol. The poem opens with the onion voicing out its thoughts as the person peels away its skin. As the poem progresses, more and more layers are removed in the person’s pursuit to find the heart of the onion. In stanza three, it becomes evident that the onion has no heart because it is “…pure onion—pure union of outside and in, surface and secret core.
But despite this, it is seen that the person continues to subject his eyes to the acidic fumes emanating from the peels in hopes of finding what is obviously absent. As the person persistently peels away the onion’s skin, the onion continues to utter words of warning to the person: it is pointless to continue stripping the onion off its covering when all that can be attained in the end are tears and “…onion-juice, yellow peels, [and] (my) stinging shreds”; the wasted effort and the person’s refusal to concede to the truth angers the onion.
For most of the poem, the feelings of annoyance and anger dominate the scene. But in the first six lines of the poem, the talking onion pities the person for he is deluded into thinking that it has a heart. But in the proceeding lines, the negative feelings start to bubble to the surface. These feelings were first introduced in the tenth line: “Look at you, chopping and weeping. Idiot. ” Here, we see that the onion finds it stupid that the person persists to chop away his skin when the act causes him to hurt.
The emotions climb a steady slope and burst out into the open starting with lines fourteen and fifteen: “…ruin and tears your only signs of progress? Enough is enough. ” Here the onion lashes out to the person for refusing to look past the veil of tears and see what is there right in front of him. The onion finds it incredulous that the person lets himself be fooled by false pretenses of the existence of something good buried deep beneath a layer of unfavorable boundaries. The onion sees no point in its destruction when all that awaits the person is nothing but a pile of abandoned skins and wasted tears.
Eventually, the onion calms down but does maintain the angry tone up to the very last line in the poem. In the poem, the centerpiece is the fact that the onion is a symbol. The onion represents the truth that the person is desperately trying to deny. In the first two stanzas of the poem, the peeling off of the onion’s skin can be interpreted as the person’s attempt to find a sugar-coated version of the truth. Alas, an onion is an onion in and out and therefore the bitter covering is all there is to it.
Even so, the person persists on chopping off the onion’s covering—a clear indication of man’s reluctance to let go of desired truths. The tears symbolize the troubles brought about by this unrelenting pursuit of misguided truths; the more man insists on digging deeper into the basic foundation of the truth, the troubles would only increase in multitude. Eventually, man reaches the core of the truth and finds that it is no different from what the surface contained. With each peeled off layer of the onion—each section of the truth uncovered, disappointment greets the persistent man.
Disappointment after disappointment, this has left the person with a weakened morale. And so the onion takes pity on the person who ended up having nothing but a tired heart divided into pieces. In conclusion, Monologue for an Onion talks about the dangers in blindly chasing false hopes. The poem highlights man’s ability to conjure fantasies and desired truths that could somehow cloud man’s judgment—instead of separating the fantasy from reality, man desperately searches for the non-existent truth in the expense of personal physical and/or emotional health.