Thomas at the Wheel
The poem “Thomas at the Wheel” written by Rita Dove is from the collection “Mandolin” in the book “Thomas and Beulah”. The first section of the book is titled “Mandolin” and it is told from Thomas’s point of view. The second half of this book is titled “Canary in Bloom” and this is from Beulah’s point of view. In this poem Thomas has a heart attack and starts to die but it seems as if it plays out in slow motion and it allows for the reader to really experience all of his thoughts and emotions.
The first stanza begins with “This, then, the river he had to swim” (43). I believe it begins in this way because it is a poem that is leading to the death of Thomas and throughout the whole section of “Mandolin” the word “river” has had a deeper meaning due to the death of Thomas’s best friend Lem. Lem was a great friend of Thomas and one night while they were out on a riverboat drunk, Lem stripped off all of his clothes and jumped off the boat thinking he was swimming towards a tree-capped island. After he jumped Thomas realized this was not and island but most likely just moss floating across the water and Lem drowned. This relates because it seems that the rain brings back memories of his past. Also in the first stanza the speaker gives the setting as Thomas is sitting in his car at a drugstore described as “lit up like a casino” (43).
The second stanza begins with a man leaving the drugstore to smoke a cigarette. The speaker uses the word “flew” to describe how the doors of the drugstore opened. I believe the speaker uses this word in particular to make it seem exaggerated and does this to show something bigger is coming leading to Thomas’s heart attack. It then goes on to explain how Thomas feels. The speaker then says “Thomas thought the sky was emptying itself as fast as his chest was filling with water” (43). Rita Dove uses a simile to compare how hard it was raining to the feeling Thomas was experiencing as the heart attack first overcame him. I believe this detail gives great insight to the reader so they are able to acknowledge the feeling of the heart attack taking control of Thomas, filling his chest with a great amount of pressure.
In the third stanza the speaker gives the reader the thoughts of Thomas in the middle of the heart attack. Thomas thinks to himself “Should he honk?” but he realizes that he has lost all control of himself and his body is so tense that he cannot loosen his grip is the wheel. The man that exited the drugstore to smoke earlier in the poem was still there and could see Thomas but seems to have no clue of what is transpiring. The man makes eye contact with Thomas, tosses his match away and leaves. I believe that man throwing the match and leaving really portrays the fact that this is the end and Thomas has realized this and has accepted that he is dying.
The forth stanza explains that Thomas is alone and in the darkness which I believe this signifies that death is beginning to take over. The speaker states “He lay down across the seat, a pod set to sea, a kiss unpuckering” (43). This shows that Thomas has given up and accepted that he cannot do anything more. He doesn’t have the strength to reach his prescription just a few feet away in the glove compartment. At this point I think he has stopped thinking about actually dying and has moved on to thinking about his life, and his wife, and his dead best friend Lem. In the last stanza I think it shows that Thomas is okay with dying because he will now be reunited with Lem. One would consider this because it is said that Thomas thinks about the writing on the water and laughs. I think this shows that he has overcame the fear of dying and is almost shows signs of happiness that it is his time. Also I wonder if Thomas hurts since he is leaving his wife. I have this feeling because that is the one thought of his actually told in the poem. The speaker says “Thomas imagined...
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