Critiquing Society and Self in Robinson's "Miniver Cheevy"

Categories: Poems

"Miniver Cheevy" by Edwin Arlington Robinson is a striking dramatic lyric poem that serves as both self-portrait and satire. Through the character of Miniver Cheevy, Robinson turns a critical eye not only on himself but also on the broader context of 19th and 20th-century America. Employing carefully chosen diction and a reflective tone, Robinson delves into the complexities of personal longing, societal critique, and the tension between idealized pasts and harsh presents.

An Introduction to Miniver Cheevy

The poem opens with the enigmatic line, "Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn.

" In this single line, Robinson encapsulates the essence of his character, Miniver Cheevy, and foreshadows the themes that will be explored in the poem. The name "Miniver Cheevy" itself carries a sense of peculiarity and otherness, setting the stage for a character who is at odds with his time.

Robinson's choice of the word "scorn" immediately establishes a tone of criticism and discontent. This word suggests that Miniver Cheevy is an outsider, marginalized or disdained by society, and that he harbors deep-seated feelings of resentment or bitterness.

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Understanding Robinson's own background adds depth to the interpretation of "Miniver Cheevy." Robinson's parents had initially expected a girl when he was born, leaving him unnamed for six months. His name, chosen randomly by a stranger while the family was on vacation, reflects a sense of detachment and lack of personal significance. This early experience of feeling unwanted likely influenced Robinson's perspective and informs his portrayal of Miniver Cheevy's dissatisfaction with life.

The Yearning for a Romantic Past

As the poem unfolds, Robinson reveals Miniver Cheevy's yearning for a bygone era, one filled with chivalry, adventure, and heroism.

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Miniver's idealized vision of the past is vividly captured in the lines:

Miniver loved the days of old

When swords were bright and steeds were prancing;

The vision of a warrior bold

Would set him dancing.

These lines convey Miniver's deep appreciation for historical periods characterized by knights in shining armor and noble quests. He longs for the romanticism and grandeur of ages past, a stark contrast to the mundane and materialistic world he finds himself in.

Robinson's portrayal of Miniver Cheevy as a dreamer who envisions Thebes, Camelot, and the neighbors of Priam reinforces his yearning for a heroic past. However, it becomes apparent that Miniver is not merely a nostalgic observer but rather a dissatisfied critic of his contemporary world.

A Critique of Modernity

Robinson's poem takes on an anti-modernist tone as Miniver Cheevy voices his disdain for the militarism and materialism of his era. He rejects the commonplace and openly despises the khaki suit, a symbol of modernity and conformity:

Miniver cursed the commonplace

And eyed a khaki suit with loathing.

This rejection of the "commonplace" and khaki suit reflects Miniver's resistance to the prevailing values and trends of his time. He seeks an escape from the pressures of modern life, yearning for a world that aligns more with his romantic ideals.

Despite his strong critique of the era, Miniver acknowledges his own role in perpetuating the standards he despises:

Miniver scorned the gold he sought

But sore he was without it.

These lines underscore the complexity of Miniver's character. He simultaneously rejects and desires the material wealth and success that define the modern age. This internal conflict adds depth to his portrayal as a character torn between his ideals and the reality he faces.

Acceptance of Fate

While Miniver Cheevy may lament his life and criticize his era, he ultimately resigns himself to his fate. The poem conveys a sense of fatalism as Miniver repeatedly seeks solace in alcohol:

Miniver Cheevy thought, and thought, and thought

And thought about it..... Miniver coughed , and called it fate/ And kept on drinking.

Miniver's contemplation and subsequent acceptance of his circumstances reflect a certain resignation. Despite his yearning for a different time and his critique of modernity, he finds solace in his vices, suggesting a degree of surrender to the status quo. This resignation, while tinged with bitterness, is a complex aspect of his character.


In conclusion, "Miniver Cheevy" by Edwin Arlington Robinson offers a nuanced exploration of both personal and societal discontent. Through the character of Miniver Cheevy, Robinson delves into themes of longing for a romantic past, critiquing the modern world, and ultimately accepting one's fate. The poem serves as a self-portrait of the poet, reflecting Robinson's own experiences of feeling out of place and yearning for a different time.

Robinson's careful choice of diction and tone allows readers to empathize with Miniver's complex character. While he may be critical of his era, Miniver's internal conflicts and ultimate resignation make him a relatable figure who grapples with the complexities of life.

"Miniver Cheevy" invites readers to contemplate the universal themes of nostalgia, dissatisfaction, and the tension between idealized pasts and the harsh realities of the present. In doing so, Robinson's poem continues to resonate with audiences, serving as a timeless exploration of the human condition.

Updated: Nov 03, 2023
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Critiquing Society and Self in Robinson's "Miniver Cheevy". (2016, Nov 24). Retrieved from

Critiquing Society and Self in Robinson's "Miniver Cheevy" essay
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