Good Families, Parents, Children Essay Example
The theme in the story This is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona by Sherman Alexie and the poem My Papa’s Waltz by Theodore Roethke focuses on the relationship between the father and the son. It is evident that in What It Means to Say Phoenix, Victor and his father didn’t have a close relationship as his father left when he was a child. “Victor hadn’t seen his father in a few years, had only talked to him in the telephone once or twice” (Alexie 1). In contrast, the little boy in My Papa’s Waltz had a close relationship with his father, as denoted by the way they danced merrily in the kitchen.
We romped until the pans (Roethke 5)
Slid from the kitchen shelf (Roethke 6)
Because of Victor’s difficult relationship with his father, he would end up having a misguided life. As Robinson asserted, the story by Alexie illustrates “how personal conflicts and broken relationships between loved ones can cause internal struggle for guidance, understanding, and direction” (qtd. in Robinson). This would be in contrast to the happy relationship between the father and son that is depicted in Roethke’s poem.
“There's controversy about the family in this poem – some readers think this is a perfectly happy family scene, while others view the family as torn apart by alcohol and abuse” (qtd. in “My Papa’s Waltz”). However, although it is possible that the father in Roethke’s poem has an alcohol problem, this doesn’t seem to deter the love and respect that the son has towards his father.
The whiskey on your breath (Roethke 1)
Could make a small boy dizzy; (Roethke 2)
But I hung on like death: (Roethke 3)
Such waltzing was not easy. (Roethke 4)
In both the story and the poem, the mother plays a distant role from the father and son. In What It Means to Say Phoenix, it can be assumed that the mother no longer cares as much for her husband because he has left his family a long time before. She is also poor and is unable to help Victor in recovering his father’s body. In this regard, Victor had to figure out on his own how he would have the means to go to Phoenix to fetch his father’s body. However, aside from this, the mother’s lack of involvement in her son’s life contributed to Victor’s loss of self-identity and lack of guidance. As with any child, the departure of a parent would be a traumatic experience. However, just as Victor was alone in figuring out how to get to Phoenix, he was also alone in dealing with the trauma of his father leaving. His mother did not provide him with the support and comfort that he needed at the time. In contrast, although the mother in My Papa’s Waltz also played a distant role, it had the effect of bringing the father and son closer to each other. This is because as the father and son danced, they would not heed the mother’s stern looks regarding the kitchen getting messed up. In effect, this made the son feel like he and his father were on the same side and his mother was on the other. As such, this made the little boy even closer to his father.
Both the story and the poem used flashbacks to relay the importance of the son’s memory of his father. While the son in My Papa’s Waltz had mostly happy and nostalgic memories of his father, Victor in What It Means to Say Phoenix could hardly remember any fond memories of his father, that is, nothing stood out for him. In this regard, the memories of Thomas Builds-the -Fire
about Victor’s father become relevant in the story. Through Thomas’ memories of Victor’s father, Victor got to see a side of his father that he probably hasn’t seen before. His lack of good memories about his father can possibly be due to the hurt and anger he felt upon his father’s departure. However, Thomas’ story about how Victor’s father picked him up at the side of the road and about his vision of Victor’s father telling him that he and Victor take care of each other showed Victor that his father was also kind and compassionate and that he did care about him, too. Moreover, while the memories of the son in My Papa’s Waltz were nostalgic and helped the son to recall the good times he had with his father, the memories of the father in What It Means to Say Phoenix served to heal Victor from the trauma and depression he felt when his father left.
Lastly, both the story and the poem touched on the theme of reconciliation. In My Papa’s Waltz, the conflict between the father and son was the father’s alcohol problem. However, this didn’t make the son angry at his father; rather, the son still chose to stay with him
You beat time on my head (Roethke 13)
With a palm caked hard by dirt, (Roethke 14)
Then waltzed me off to bed (Roethke 15)
Still clinging to your shirt. (Roethke 16)
On the other hand, in What It Means to Say Phoenix, Victor chooses to forgive his father by letting go of all the pain he’s caused. “I’m going to travel to Spokane Falls one last time and toss these ashes into the water” (Alexie 11), says Thomas, to which Victor replies, “I was planning on doing the same thing with my half. . . I thought it’d be like cleaning the attic or something. Like letting things go after they’ve stopped having any use (Alexie 11).
Alexie, Sherman. “This is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona.” Web. 4 March 2015
< https://eng102ea.files.wordpress.com/2008/08/phoenix-arizona.pdf>. “My Pap’s Waltz.” schmoop.com. Schmoop University, 2015. Web. 4 March 2015
Robinson, Russia. “Storytelling, Relationships, and Native Identity: This is What it Means to Say
Phoenix Arizona.” wordpress.com. Wordpress, 30 November 2013. Web. 4 March 2015
Roethke. “My Papa’s Waltz.” Web. 4 March 2015