“My Papa’s Waltz” is about a brief moment in time with a family. Father and son waltzing throughout the kitchen, with mother unhappily watching on the side. There is disputation about the family in ‘My Papa’s Waltz.’ Some would believe this is a happily ever after family moment. Others see alcohol and abuse. I believe that even though there may be fear and love blended all together in this family, there are few ominous secrets hiding in ‘My Papa’s Waltz’ other than death tearing apart the family.
In Theodore Roethke’s ‘My Papa’s Waltz,’ one could without a doubt be confused by the title itself. It seems the title is pretty self-evident. A waltz is a three beat dance. The waltz is supposed to be a graceful, affectionate dance with you and your partner. To me, a dance is supposed to make two people inseparable. The waltz in ‘My Papa’s Waltz’ creates that image, while also creating an ominous point of this waltz, which is a strong disturbing feeling beneath the cover of ‘My Papa’s Waltz,’ controls the atmosphere, and the love and affection of this waltz does not create a good first impression on the reader. After some read ‘My Papa’s Waltz,’ one could mistake it for child abuse or rough love. The reader could assume that the waltz could describe the relationship between the father and son. Love and fear.
So who exactly is the speaker here? The second line in ‘My Papa’s Waltz’ states ‘Could make a small boy dizzy.’ You can now assume that the speaker is a small boy. If you think about it carefully, you realize that it is not the small boy as described in ‘My Papa’s Waltz’ because ‘My Papa’s Waltz’ is offered in the past tense. It may be the child writing at a later point in his life. The narrator of ‘My Papa’s Waltz’ is a grown man recollecting his immaturity. We receive few clues about why the adult narrator is recollecting moments in his immaturity.
‘Beat’ is a apparent sign of neglect. The image of father’s buckle scraping his son’s ear, proved that the father would use any weapons usable to perform this abuse, or, just a belt. Although the mother looks but does not get involved, she feels bad that she cannot keep her husband from beating their son. However the mother does not condone it, seeing as we see ‘My mother’s countenance /could not unfrown itself’ in lines seven and eight. The mother’s condemnation of what is happening seems to be additional proof that the child’s dad is not behaving like a good role model to his son. The son does not seem to be having fun at all. He defines the ‘waltz’ as forcing him to hang on ‘like death.’ Not a good definition of what a child would want. The word ‘death’ produced in a poem that also includes the violent word ‘beat’ to define the act of a father with his son is not enough evidence for the reading of ‘My Papa’s Waltz’ in my opinion. ‘Death’ produces an ominous warning that child abuse has frequent deadly results. If there is any confusion, the verifiable truth that the father is drunk, should be enough said. The first line of ‘My Papa’s Waltz’ points out he is intoxication by acquiring our attention to the ‘whiskey’ on his breath as the first fact we discover about the father and his dance. This drunk father, is abusing the child.
On the other hand, let us take a look at ‘My Papa’s Waltz’ from a different point of view. The father arrives home, to his family, after work, just before his son goes to sleep. He does not take time to wash seeing as he still has ‘a palm caked hard by dirt.’ He wants to spend time with his son doing something fun. So, he and his waltz around the house. ‘Romped’ suggested for me that this was a beneficial, playful experience. Imagine a huge man playing and dancing all up and down the house with his son. It is not difficult to understand why a mom might frown upon buffoonery. It is the child’s bedtime, and the father is attempting to get his son hype when he is supposed to be in bed and sleep. They are both dancing and playing around messing up the kitchen so that just adds to the mother’s frowning countenance. Mom does not seem to approve, but she does not do anything to stop them. To me, this meant that even though she did not enjoy this waltz, she did not want to ruin a father and son moment. As for the buckle, I think, the son’s head was at his dad’s waist level, so every now and then, the son’s ‘right ear scraped a buckle’ on the dad’s belt. The final lines of ‘My Papa’s Waltz’ proves that this is the situation of the father and son, as the child remembers his dad ‘waltzed me off to bed’ holding tight to his shirt. Under the circumstances of this type of waltz, the idea that the son is ‘clinging’ to his dad advocates both that he counts on his dad and that he has an immature response to the threat that the waltzing will stop due to bedtime.
Do I see playfulness and grace in them, rather than violence? I understood the ‘My Papa’s Waltz as playfulness and grace. Evidence of Grace is not only shown in paragraph four but also in the title as shown in the first paragraph. A waltz is a three beat dance. The waltz is supposed to be a graceful, affectionate dance with you and your partner. To me, a dance is supposed to make two people inseparable. So to get that confused with violence, is kind of unlikely to me. Regardless of how I understood ‘My Papa’s Waltz,’ I could be completely wrong about ‘My Papa’s Waltz’. It could be quickly turned around as seen in the third paragraph.
My Papas Waltz
- Length: 473 words (1.4 double-spaced pages)
- Rating: Excellent
A Drunken Dance
Theodore Roethke’s “My Papa’s Waltz” tells the reader of a small boy’s memory of his father. It explains how his father is intoxicated and the scene that goes along with it, using the word waltz to describe it.
In the first two lines, it recounts the smell of his father’s breath and the extent to which it reeked: “The whiskey on your breath / Could make a small boy dizzy” (1-2). As the third and fourth lines are read, a picture of a small boy hanging onto his father is instilled in the reader’s mind: “But I hung on like death / Such waltzing was not easy” (3-4). We would not normally associate this particular image with a waltz, a word Webster’s Dictionary defines as a ballroom dance in 3/4 time with strong accent on the first beat and a basic pattern of step-step-close. How can such an elegant dance be used to describe such a scene?
The fifth and sixth lines describe, sarcastically, a playful incident where pans fall off the kitchen shelf: “We romped until the pans / Slid from the kitchen shelf” (5-6). Finally the boy’s mother comes into play during the seventh and eight lines. Her facial expression “Could not unfrown itself” (8). This tells us that the mother was displeased but its rather discerning that she made no attempt at intervening. We would normally think of a mother’s love as unconditional and willing to do anything for her son. It really shows the degree of fear the father must have embedded into the mother with his actions.
The eleventh through fourteenth lines describe actual, bodily harm done to the young boy by way of his father’s acts: “At every step you missed / My right ear scraped a buckle / You beat time on my head / With a palm caked hard by dirt” (11-14). We can actually picture the boy clinging to his father as his ear scrapes the father’s belt buckle and his watch bumps hard onto the boy’s head.
I believe this poem tells a rather disturbing story of a boy’s time with his father in a very sarcastic way. I believe the theme to it is the sarcasm itself. It shows how some things that are bad can be described as good.
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Papas Waltz Young Boy Theodore Roethke Whiskey Bodily Hanging Drunken Seventh Ballroom
It could be pointing out that the boy is so naive as to think that there is nothing wrong with what has happened. It makes me think of some stories of children who have been abused or simply come from broken homes. They don’t know its wrong because they haven’t known anything else their whole lives. This could be the case in Roethke’s poem, “My Papa’s Waltz.”
Roethke, Thomas. “My Papa’s Waltz.” Literature and the Writing Process.
Elizabeth McMahan, Susan X Day, and Robert Funk. 5th ed. Upper
Saddle River: Prentice, 1999. 479