Pass/Fail

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A Reading of Linda Pastan’s

“Pass/Fail”

Often poems can be hard to read and confusing. Linda Pastan’s poem “Pass/Fail” is

pretty easy to understand but it also has deep meaning. This poem can be seen as representing

test anxiety and also other anxiety you have as you go through life making decisions. The effect

the writer is trying to achieve is that overcoming anxieties can be hard but if you do not accept

reality you will never succeed. It seems as if the writer is saying you can not achieve your

dreams if you are expecting to fail. It seems as if the writer may be trying to overcome her own

personal anxieties.

In the first few stanzas of the poem Pastan says, “you will never graduate from this dream

of blue books. (847)” It seems as if she is trying to say that she is depressed and feels like she is

set up for failure on every test she is given. No matter how hard a person can try to succeed their

fears and anxieties can often get in their way and they fail. Anxiety is something that is hard to

deal with and is often a big distraction in accomplishing dreams. Pastan uses the choice of

words such as “blue books” to represent a test; however, her choice of words can be interpreted

for deeper meaning to mean other things in life.

“the dream beckons with two dull pencils, but you haven't even taken the course; when Lombas 2

you reach for a book-- it closes its door in your face; (847)” These lines also represent

something greater. The two dull pencils can be seen as two paths of the road you may be given

to choose. However, if you choose the wrong path it comes back to slap you in face. “it closes

its door in your face; (847)” can mean that the anxiety from taking the test makes a person feel as

if they do not have any other options and that they feel as if they were meant to fail and never

succeed. It seems that Pastan is saying that anxiety can take over your dreams and paths...
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