Jacqueline S. Alford
6 November 2011
An Analysis of “The Workbox”
When is a gift more then a gift? Can a gift be given not out of love, but out of cruelty with intent to punish, threaten, and subjugate? The poem “The Workbox” written in 1914 by Thomas Hardy explores this topic. Throughout the poem the theme is shown to be that a kind gesture and concerned words can be a false veneer that is meant to thinly veil anger, cruelty, and dominance.
Hardy’s poem on the surface is about a seemingly loving yet dense husband who gives his wife a handmade workbox as a gift, which he has crafted out of the remnants of a coffin he has just completed. The wife happily accepts the gift which she believes is given out of love, but is shocked and frightened when she learns of its origin. Most would be shocked but not necessarily frightened to learn that a gift was made of materials of a coffin, but in this poem it is not the raw materials which the gift is made of that shocks and frightens the wife but rather the coffin’s owner (Hardy line 1-10).
The husband with feign innocence tells his wife the name of the owner of the coffin, John Wayward, who is now buried, but he tells her only after she cheerfully accepts the gift. He holds the present up to her
As with a smile she nears
And answers to the proffered,
“’Twill last all my sewing years!”
“I warrant it will. And longer too.
‘Tis a scantling that I got
Off poor John Wayward’s coffin, who
Died of they knew not what. (Hardy 5-12) John Wayward is a man from the wife’s “native town.” The poem subtlety implies that he was the wife’s former lover and the husband who is aware of this is now using this to taunt her. “But why do you look so white, my dear,
And turn aside your face?
You knew not that good lad, I fear, Though he came from your...