A Reflection on “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner”
Rebeca Espirito Santo
The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner
“From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze
Six miles from the earth, loosed from its dream of life
I woke to black flack and the nightmare fighters
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.”
“The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner”, by Randall Jarrell, is a surprisingly simple and brief poem; nevertheless it is extensive in content. Due to carefully chosen words, with great descriptive power and an appeal to symbolism, Jarrell skillfully accomplishes the task of providing readers with detailed images and feelings of the turret gunner’s situation, yet leaves plenty of space for the reader’s imagination, interpretation and critique. While reading this poem, one can be encouraged to question the image we have of our soldiers - those who have no fear – while not questioning their bravery. War can produce gruesome situations that can cause even the bravest men to face their fears.
The poem’s incisiveness is demonstrated by the fact that if the reader doesn’t see the title, or if one isn’t familiar with what a ball turret is, it becomes very challenging to even know what the poem is about. Once the reader forms a clear image of a B-17 “Flying Fortress” or a B-24 “Liberator”, with it’s small Plexiglas ball turrets located in the bottom fuselage, it becomes extremely easy to visualize the soldier’s situation. From the first half of the second line - “And I hunched in its belly” - of the poem it is possible to picture how uncomfortable, lonely and vulnerable the gunner was in the bottom of the airplane. Then, in the second half of the same line - “till my wet fur froze” - one is able to...
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