Two Hands Commentary

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Alessandra Kortenhorst
March 17, 2009
English HL Y1, E Block

In His Shadow

In Jon Stallworthy’s poem “Two Hands,” the narrator expresses a son’s idolization of his father. This idolization is not based upon an intimate emotional relationship, but rather, on the son comparing himself to his father. His vocation, a writer, falls short when held against his father’s, a surgeon. In “Two Hands,” a son narrates, through metaphors and mood, his frigid and distant relationship with his father.

Through metaphors and word play, the poet forges a connection between the narrator and his father. These brief moments of connection between the two serve to contrast, and thereby highlight, the otherwise distant relationship. The subject, “My father” (1) is introduced at the very opening of the poem. Although the father is never directly described in the poem, aside from his hands, the way the narrator describes him leaves the reader feeling in awe of this god-like man. The father, we learn, is a skilled doctor who has already wielded his scalpel in “an intricate dance” (4-5) thirteen times that day. Even the home is no refuge for this workaholic as he studies medical journals till late in the night. The imagery created of this assiduous doctor “leading” the scalpel implies an air of masterful authority about the father. Two phrases, “fingers with some style on paper” (9-10) and “dance with this pencil” (14-15), allow us to conclude that the son is a writer. The father and son connect in this poem through the idea of “dancing” with their respective tools: scalpel and pencil. Dancing invites with it the connotations of skillfully moving with elegance. From the poem, the father obviously embodies these traits when dancing with his scalpel. The son describes himself with considerably more modesty than his father, yet even he admits to having “some style on paper” (9-10), enough skill to “dance/with this pencil”(14-15). Another connection is created through the concept of...
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