Nazis and Woodchucks
Nazi racial ideology has baffled the cultured mind since the atrocities were first made known to the world with the end of WWII. Though the inconceivable horror Jews and other nationalities endured under Nazi reign is common knowledge in our culture and is found in almost any modern history textbook, the mindset that made such atrocities acceptable to Nazis under Hitler’s regime remains a mystery to many. Maxine Kumin admirably conveys the thought process behind this oppressive outlook through the seemingly simplistic poem “Woodchucks”. The purpose of the poem is to align the readers with the narrator’s apparently reasonable yet somewhat sociopathic view of the woodchucks as an inferior life form while building an allegory to the Nazi’s justification for mass extermination that will shock the audience when made explicit by the poem’s end. In the first stanza, Maxine introduces the narrator’s problem with the woodchucks and how she justifies attempting to gas them. The narrator states how killing the woodchucks with gas “didn’t turn out right” (1). This phrase emphasizes how the narrator views killing the woodchucks as a mundane and emotionless task, the same way a batch of cookies or pot of coffee may not “turn out right”. Gassing has connotations of a slow agonizing death, but the poem continues: “the knockout bomb from the Feed and Grain Exchange / was featured as merciful, quick at the bone” (2-3). This contrast in connotation and given definition is meant to show how the narrator is striving to justify their deaths. The second stanza begins to make the narrator’s view of the woodchucks as lesser clearer to the audience. Maxine uses alliteration to draw attention to the words cyanide, cigarettes and state-store Scotch when the narrator states the woodchucks are “No worse / for the cyanide than we for our cigarettes” (7-8). In this comparison, the narrator gives the impression that she considers gassing the woodchucks a favor to them,...
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