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Innocent Love - Walter McDonald's "Life With Father" and Theodore Roethke's "My Papa's Waltz".

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Innocent Love Walter McDonald's "Life With Father" and Theodore Roethke's "My Papa's Waltz" both offer extraordinary insight into the behaviors and lifestyles of two different families living and dealing with alcoholic fathers. Alcoholism permeates throughout each of these poems and becomes the defining factor in the lives of the children associated with both "Life With Father" and "My Papa's Waltz." Surprisingly however, neither Walter McDonald nor Theodore Roethke uses the seemingly omnipotent alcoholic father figure as a focal point of antagonism, frustration, abhorrence, or hate but instead both poets highlight the love, affection, fondness and respect that the children have for their fathers no matter what, in their respective poems. Walter McDonald and Theodore Roethke both use vivid figurative language and sound devices in similar and different ways in their poems to express their shared theme: that, even amidst the cruelty and brutality of alcoholism in the home, feelings of love, affection and respect persevere in the minds of those who are most affected, and here it is the children. McDonald and Roethke use dramatic imagery not only to create visual effects that complement their common theme but uses it also to convey abstract ideas and concepts that would have been very difficult or even impossible to express in literal terms. Theodore Roethke in "My Papa's Waltz" openly shows his imagery as two-fold: one of systematic child-abuse by an alcoholic father and the other of a hard-working man who danced awkwardly yet enthusiastically and thus creating a moment of intimacy with his child. ...read more.


In a like manner, Walter McDonald's use of imagery visualizes and humanizes not only the fear of the children but also their undying devotion and respect for their father. Similarly to "My Papa's Waltz," McDonald in "Life With Father" emphasizes the presence and importance of alcohol by even highlighting the "whisky" in their father's "snoring." Alcohol seems to be like an angry cloud shadowing the entire poem. There is a sense of duality in McDonald's imagery as he contrasts the lives seen in the "Sunday funnies" and the actual lives of the children. "Fear" seems to be the only word that describes the domestic life in the poem. The children here have to constantly "hide" and "creep softly" trying not wanting to wake the sleeping giant from his "stupor" as they fear his "fierce [ness]." In direct contrast, in "the Sunday funnies" the children see "Dagwood / bumbling about insanely sober" and "Wash Tubbs with twins / he doted over." Sadly it seems that the children have so rarely seen their father sober that they describe it as "insane" and "bumbling." A loving parent usually dotes on their children, and in the absence of this, McDonald adds a sense of jealously and wanting. Walter McDonald shows through imagery how the children have sadly grown accustomed to their father's lifestyle even though they continue to live in constant fear of him. ...read more.


The sound utilized by McDonald almost seems to stress softness, motion and ease. Even though fear is clearly apparent, the children's overlying feelings of affection and respect for their father carry on amidst the strife and terror. The "life with father" cannot be even closely described as normal but yet the sounds utilized give us the impression that the children must be satisfied, and are thankful for what they have and find joy wherever possible. Thus we see that the overlying conflict between alcoholic parents and their simplistic na�ve children are often revealed explicitly in such poems as "Life with Father" and "My Papa's Waltz." Here both Walter McDonald and Theodore Roethke create an interesting paradox in their poems when they focus on the cruelty, brutality and viciousness of alcoholism in the home especially in relation to families but yet accentuate the ongoing feelings of love, affection, respect and compassion that children continue to hold for their fathers despite their faults. The similarities and differences of these poems in imagery and sound devices respectively, draw attention to the common theme that these poems have. McDonald and Roethke stress very effectively the strength of the family unit and its ability to preserve and endure through hardship. Problems such as alcoholism often break up families but these poems are a testament to the importance of the family unit and its unity and how amidst all conflict, love persists and thus can bind together all things. ...read more.

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