ENGL 1F95 Lecture Notes - Lyric Poetry, Persona, Assonance

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13 Oct 2011
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Critical analysis of the use of a persona in
Atwood’s “Death of a Young Son by Drowning
Though ‘Death of a Young Son by Drowning’ is technically a
lyric poem, Atwood has created a distinct persona as the
speaker, so that the description of a son’s death must be
read against a sense of Susanna Moodie’s role as a writer of
19th- century Canadian immigrant literature. As I will argue,
Atwood’s construction of this persona diminishes the sense
that the poem is a meditation on death, despite the clear
description of the son’s drowning in a river used to
transport logs. Rather, Atwood’s use of a historical literary
persona, together with the sheer number of literary figures
used in the poem to describe, for example, the son’s birth,
death, and burial, ultimately provide a meditation on the
development of sense of national identity, both for the
character of Moodie and for the contemporary Canadian
writer.
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A note about interpretation
The interpretive level of reading might usefully be
thought of as the process of translating a literary text
into plain language and/or summing up the
particular narrative or thought that is expressed.
While the process of critical analysis (ie. of thinking
through why the use of particular literary devices in a
text is significant) might generate any number of
viable arguments, the process of interpretation is far
more stable, in that the goal is to translate or
paraphrase the literary text with as much accuracy as
possible.
Interpretation, though seemingly a straightforward
process, is challenging, in that it is at this reading
level that the inattentive literary critic is likely to go
“wrong.
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