Not what you'd expect

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When I first started reading My Papa's Waltz I got the impression that the poem was going to be about how the narrator resented his father for getting drunk. I thought that there would be the usual theme of frowning on the person who drinks and that the poem would paint the father as a terrible patriarch for spending his time and money on whiskey. I think society today has trained us to believe that a father who drinks is ALWAYS an alcoholic. And of course, in today's world we ALWAYS think of "alcoholic" and "wife-beater" as interchangeable. It seems that to us in this modern era we often associate one with the other.

The narrator presented a very pleasant image that sharply contrasted my preconceived notion of his poem. He remembers his old man with a very warm fondness. The whiskey is not portrayed as negative in any way. Instead, it seems to loosen the old man and make the experience more fun. The narrator seems to enjoy stumbling about after his fathers missteps. I found it quite refreshing to have the narrator involve alcohol in his poem without making it the focus of the cause of any negativity. Instead the alcohol appears only briefly.

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4 Comments

Alyssa Sanow said:

I agree that society has trained us to view any parent who drinks alcohol as an alcoholic, but this poem seemed far removed from a fond memory. When I read it I was shocked at the word choice and connotations of the phrases in the poem. Words like "death," "beating," and "battered" do not seem like words a poet would choose to use to describe an enjoyable event. Also, why would the mother be frowning?

Carlos Peredo said:

I was thinking about those words a lot, and at first I thought others' blogs had convinced me. But I still can't shake that my original gut feeling gave me the impression of those words not as implying that the narrator was beat or anything like that, but instead that the father was a man whose job demanded a lot of him.

His hands being battered on the knuckles and caked with dirt brought to mind a steel worker or a mechanic. I thought the words served to illustrate the father's character as a man who payed a terrible price for putting food on the table. Andrew Adams later pointed out to me that his father was a gardener, which I think reiterates the blue collar thing that I was thinking.

That said, I still see how the poem could easily be about how this drunk man would beat his child. It just wasn't how I initially perceived it.

Rosalind Blair said:

Carlos, I agree with your statement that this poem does not describe an abusive father, but someone who as been worn down by hard work. I think the poem could also be seen in a darker light, but I think interpretation of this poem varies greatly depending on the mindset you have while reading it. I personally think the mother was frowing because the poem says something along the lines of the fact that the dancing was making the pots fall of the shelves. Wouldn't any mother frown if her kitchen was being made into a mess that she will have to clean up in the morning?

Carlos Peredo said:

Yeah I agree. I felt more like she was upset that they were making a mess, not that he was drunk. Also, I got the impression that the words about death and darkness referred to the father's bodily health. It's very common for blue collar workers to be plagued by injuries such as arthritis, slipped or herniated disks, and degenerative conditions in the knees or other joints. As I read I got the image of a man who was drinking away the physical pain of a hard day's work; someone who would die young from abusing their body.

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Carlos Peredo on Not what you'd expect: Yeah I agree. I felt more like
Rosalind Blair on Not what you'd expect: Carlos, I agree with your stat
Carlos Peredo on Not what you'd expect: I was thinking about those wor
Alyssa Sanow on Not what you'd expect: I agree that society has train
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