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My Papa's Waltz


             In writing, several techniques are used to develop a desired feeling within the reader. These techniques describe a feeling a particular way, using a concise description through the use of imagery; to communicate the authors desired effect on the reader. Theodore Rathkes "My Papa's Waltz", purposefully denies us that concise description, using simile imagery that allows a widely varied opinion of the characters playing out the events within the household, based on the readers feelings and experiences. .
             Duality in interpretation is established immediately with the description "The whiskey on your breath could make a small boy dizzy." This picture elicits a widely varied image of a man based on personal feelings and experiences. A reader who has experienced an alcoholic father develops an image of a drunken man towering over his child, while a reader without that experience draws an image of a man who, after a drink or two, is playing with his son. Elizabeth Bishop, in the opening lines of "The Fish" wrote: "I caught a tremendous fish and held him out of water, with my hook fast in a corner of his mouth." (751) The image that develops within the reader is exact and measured, leaving no doubt what is being described. Comparing that with Roethke's opening lines, his similes have a designed lack of exactness, ensuring that the reader will not be steered into any predetermined picture, but instead, can draw from a multitude of different images based on their personal experiences.
             The second stanza continues the same way as the first, using language designed to allow different interpretations. "We romped until the pans slid from the kitchen shelf", can be interpreted to mean that the father beat his son around, knocking things asunder in his drunken haze, or that the son and father played roughly, and in their fun, knocked the pans around. "My mother's countenance could not unfrown itself" is interpreted by readers to mean that the mother was upset by the way the father was beating the son, or that the mother was simply frowning because the father and son were a bit too rambunctious, messing up her kitchen in their fun.


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