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The Narrator in The Poem My Papa's Waltz by Theodore Roethke

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“My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke is a poem that tells a story of a young boy who looks up to his father despite his father’s actions and character. This is a common situation in society, as young boys are raised with a father as the head of the household and they grow up aspiring to be just like their father. The narrator of “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke is a young boy blindly admiring his father despite the horrific actions he performs.

Roethke never blatantly introduces the reader to the narrator, but he invokes the image of a small boy by introducing the poem with, “The whiskey on your breath Could make a small boy dizzy;” (1-2). While the word “could” in the above quote prevents proving that the narrator is a small boy, Roethke’s ambiguous hint to the narrator allows more understanding of the character. Obviously, from this line, the narrator does not identify himself as a small boy; but then again, what small boy does? Most small children, boys in particular, are trained by society to be big and strong as soon as you can. Therefore, being a small boy is degrading and insulting. As the narrator looks up to his father, his separates himself from his own identity in an effort to adopt the identity of his father.

Throughout the poem, the language of the narrator shows that he is not fully aware of the exact situation that is occurring. The entire metaphor to the waltz exemplifies this perfectly. While his father is drunk and destroying everything in his path, the narrator explains the odd situation with his understanding of a waltz. He hangs on to his father in order to help his mind accept this fantasy. He views all the aspects of the situation, the pans falling, the bruises and the cut, as part of the waltz. This shows how innocent the narrator is and how much he is willing to look over in order to see his father as the man he wants him to be.

Overall, the poem develops a melancholy tone as the narrator’s longing for his father is so sweet, yet desperately sad. The poem takes a situation that is so often seen in a negative light and puts it through a hopeful child’s perspective. This allows the situation to be understood completely differently than it normally is. It adds a whole new layer of despair as the little boy desperately hopes for his father to merely be waltzing. Through the end, the boy refuses to accept reality and continues to blindly admire his father as he is “still clinging to your shirt.”

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The Narrator in the Poem My Papa’s Waltz by Theodore Roethke. (2018, October 26). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 25, 2023, from
“The Narrator in the Poem My Papa’s Waltz by Theodore Roethke.” GradesFixer, 26 Oct. 2018,
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