"Running on Empty" by Robert Phillips is describing a young person, probably a college freshman, discovering what it is like to be on his own. This theme is carried throughout the poem and reinforced through many traditional structural elements. .
The poem is using a blank verse form commonly used by the romantics. The technical or structural elements used in this poem include metaphor, symbolism, simile and characterization. Characterization is used in the poem as a way for the reader to identify with the theme. By establishing a character, the author gives the reader insight into what a young teenager experiences through memories of their own experiences. Metaphor is used many times to compare the character to a car such as in line 20 where the character in the poem is compared to a stalled car. Metaphor is used again in line 11 where "the Earth's rolling surface" is referring to the character's emotions. Simile is used in the eighth stanza referring to the wind:.
"Than anyone pushed before, the wind.
Screaming past like the Furies- .
The wind is compared to the scream of the mythical Furies. In this poem, the symbolism of a car and the freedom it brings to a teenager is used to show the freedom and rebellion in the character. The author uses that symbolism throughout the poem. Almost every reader will recall the feeling of freedom they had when they were first able to drive. .
The key elements that Phillips uses to carry his theme of discovering what it is like for a teenager to be on their own are defiance, living for the moment, leaving home and feeling afraid. Phillips" poem describes someone full of defiance which is typical in a teenager. The references to defiance include the father's tone in lines two and three, .
"Reluctantly: "Always keep the tank.
Half full, boy, half full, ya hear?".
The father is speaking in a tone that indicates that the teenager will not listen to him. Further references to defiance are made in lines 11 and 12.