American Literature – Roethke

Part I: Discuss Roethke’s “My Papa’s Waltz” from the perspective of the adult speaker as he reflects on his childhood perception of his father. This poem usually invites debate among students: is it a memory of child abuse at the hands of an alcoholic father or a beloved memory of exuberant horseplay? Hint: The title of the poem is your first clue at the intended meaning.

Part II: Eudora Welty writes a coming of age story in “A Memory.” In an roughly an afternoon, the girl arrives a child and leaves a young woman. Why did Welty place the character where she did? Everything surrounding her is a symbol for something in life. List as many as you can along with the reason you believe them significant. Why does she burst into tears at the end?

Part III: What is the significance of Irene Wryson’s dreams, do you think? And why doesn’t she share this recurring dream with her husband? For that matter, why is he ashamed of the fact that he bakes cakes in the middle of the night when he can’t sleep? What is so important about “a good appearance” in Cheever’s story, and what overall message does Cheever try to communicate through this family’s quirky dysfunctionality?

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