A Comparative Analysis
The Whipping by Robert Hayden, unlike My Papa’s Waltz by Theodore Roethke, effectively encourages feelings of empathy in the reader through its explicit theme, diction and shifts.
The Whipping has an explicit theme of abuse. This is recognized immediately because of the title itself. The reader can infer that this poem is a negative piece with abusive actions. However, My Papa’s Waltz does not have an obvious theme. The title may sound pleasant to the reader for it does not have a noticeable negative tone. The theme of abuse is directly stated in The Whipping, “The old woman across the way/is whipping the boy again…” (ll. 1-2). This can invoke an immediate empathetic response from the reader because it is clear to understand what is happening in the poem. In My Papa’s Waltz, a boy reminisces dancing with his father, “But I hung on like death:/Such waltzing was not easy.” (ll. 3-4). The phrase “hung on like death” can be interpreted differently by the reader. The reader can think positively, that the son is simply holding on tight to his father while they dance. However it can be seen negatively, that the son is hanging on to refrain from getting hurt while his father wildly throws him about which can be seen as dancing. It is not clear whether the poem is a recollection of a bad memory or a good one, therefore it does not effectively encourage feelings of empathy since the reader can have different perspectives on what is truly going on in the poem.
The Whipping uses diction to encourage feelings of empathy in the reader. The words chosen do not need much connotation for they are direct in what they mean, “She strikes and strikes the shrilly circling/boy till the stick breaks/in her hand.” (ll. 9-11). The reader can comprehend what is happening to the boy, therefore he or she can feel compassion for the boy. The poem effectively invokes feeling of empathy in the reader through its straightforward wording. My Papa’s Waltz uses diction but the reader can make assumptions and connote on the meaning of the poem, “You beat time on my head/With a palm caked hard by dirt,” (ll. 13-14). The reader can infer that “beating time on my head” is associated with keeping time and rhythm while dancing. However this can also be seen as the father literally beating the son for a long period of time. Therefore empathy is not the only feeling that can be expressed by the reader since the diction is not as direct and can be understood in different ways.
The Whipping uses shifts to encourage feelings of empathy in the reader. There is a shift from the third stanza to the fourth stanza which is clearly seen with the colon on the last line, “…to woundlike memories:” (l. 12). The shift is from the speaker observing the boy getting whipped to remembering something in his or her past. The colon indicates that the next stanza is about a painful memory and the ellipsis in line 18 indicates the end of the memory. However since an ellipsis is chosen as the punctuation the reader can infer that there is more to be said. The fourth stanza uses the personal pronoun “my” which can make the reader feel as if they are in the speakers place. This recollection the speaker has included harsh words such as, “wrench, writhing and struggle” which can help the reader feel the pain of the speaker. This can result into the reader feeling empathy. My Papa’s Waltz does not have any clear shifts in the poem. The poem in general seems to have two sides to it which affects the reader’s perspective. Feelings of empathy can be produced in the reader but it is not done effectively.
In conclusion, The Whipping by Robert Hayden efficiently encourages feelings of empathy in the reader by using an explicit theme of abuse, diction and shifts, while My Papa’s Waltz by Theodore Roethke can evoke different feelings in the reader but not the feelings of empathy effectively.