Choice and Circumstance

Topics: Philosophy of life, Human, Psychology Pages: 7 (1063 words) Published: April 16, 2008
Choice and Circumstance

What happens when the life we choose for ourselves conflicts with the life that is

chosen for us? “Shoplifters,” by Maura Stanton, describes a group of shoplifters whose

circumstances speak to the theme of isolation. They are alone, stealing by choice to fill

the void they each share--a lack of relationship with another human. “Night Waitress,”

by Lynda Hull, describes a woman working the night shift by choice. The waitress

complains to herself about the isolation she feels from her decision to take this job. She

too longs for relationship, but her situation makes her incapable of fostering any sort of

companionship. The structures of the two works share a similar pattern but in a reverse

order. One poem goes from focusing on a group to focusing on the individual; the

second poem does the opposite. In both works, routine intersects with reality--usually

represented by job related tasks against human nature and impulse. Then one must

ask if either of these categories are the result of personal choice or involuntary

circumstance. The poems “Shoplifters” and “Night Waitress” illustrate the contrast

between choice and circumstance in the context of relationship, structure, and routine

versus reality.

The sense of loneliness and longing for relationship is so strong and easily

distinguished in both works. The shoplifters circumstances forces them to steal so

that they can foster or mend some type of relationship in their lives. All characters but one choose to steal something that will benefit some other influence in their lives.

“Night Waitress” is a different story. Her choice is determining her circumstance.

She longs and feels the need for relationship but chooses not to do anything about it

because of her job.

The lack of a male figure is also another common factor of the two works. Not

as easily recognized, but it is there. “Shoplifters” mentions three type of women, a

widowed mother, a nun, and two old sister. All three lacking the influence of a male

figure. The widowed mother has the lack due to death. The nun obviously is lacking a

male figure due to choice. The two old sisters could have the lack by choice or perhaps

just coincidence. They could be referred to as spinsters, which is a term used to

refer to single older women who live with other women.

Structure is a very important element in literature. “Shoplifters” and “Night

Waitress” use a very unique type of structure. “Shoplifters” starts out with the phrase “I’d

smoke in the freezer among the hooked beefsides, wondering about the shoplifters who

wept when the manager’s nephew tugged them to his office.” (Stanton, 1) This phrase

gives the poem a cold, dark sense. The poem ends up making a complete

position reversal. Ending with the phrase “Now he peers through the window, watching

me bag groceries for hours until my hands sweat” (Stanton, 38). The poem still has a

dark feel, but it now gives the sense of hot and sticky. “Night Waitress” has a similar

reversal but instead of using temperature, it takes the reversal in the sense of

perception. The server talks as if she is invisible to the men that come into the

dinner at night, she says that they don’t see her because she’s tired. “At this hour the

men all look as if they’d never had mothers. They don’t see me.” (Hull, 10) By the end of

the poem this perception has turned. “Men surge to the factories and I’m too tired to

look” (Hull, 41). Instead of her being invisible to the men, they are invisible to her.

What is the quality that links the waitress and the bagger? Both poems are

told in the first-person, with both speakers discussing their occupations. It is a

description of routine, responsibility, and obligation. The waitress seems to view

herself as a robot: filling the customers' drinks,...
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