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Levertov’s “Mid-American Tragedy” and “What Work Is” Essay

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Updated: Jan 9th, 2022

Mid-American Tragedy

The poem ‘Mid American Tragedy’ by Levertov explains the significance of reflecting on the lives of others and sympathizing with their misfortunes. Some people lack loving and caring parents to stand by and encourage them during difficult circumstances. This poem compels the reader to actually sit back and reflect on the lives of different people. A good relationship between children and parents is based on a strong bond where both parties freely express their feelings and ideas which emanate from a good understanding of one another.

The title of the poem is descriptive enough to send a message of sadness expressed in the entire poem. In literature, a tragedy is a fictional work of art where the tragic character is eventually ruined or exposed to untold suffering emanating from a tragic bladder or the failure to cope with certain situations. In this poem, a son becomes erratic but his parents stand by him amidst the suffering rather than ignoring him. The parents are contrasted with other parents who never mind their children after their relationships become strained. In the poem, the parents reiterate that he still remains their son and they will take care of him till the end.

The serious sickness that the son is grappling with brings him to a tragic end. It is expected that during these last days of the life of the son, the parents give him peace and allow him some silence in order for him to confess what had happened. However, they do not allow him the chance of doing this because what they are concerned about is not knowing what happened to the son, but the fulfillment of restoring his life and health back. In general, the poem is reflective of the pain that parents may go through when their children turn out to be what they did not expect. However, excellent parents should never give up on their children simply because they disappointed them in one way or the other.

What Work is

In this poem, the author conveys the images of men standing in line waiting for work. The ignored laborers are portrayed as people who have undergone tough and humiliating experiences. They have to wait in long lines as they try their luck to get jobs they are never sure of getting. The reader is able to learn of the tough experiences of the laborers when for instance, a man who resembles his brother is depicted to have a sad slouch and a grin that openly shows the stubbornness of refusing to give in.

The description is representative of all the workers. The reader learns that the laborers have refused to give in and are determined to look for work. Although the laborers are determined to look for work, they have a feeling that they might not get any work. The poem brings out the persona talking about his brother and explaining how he has been missing him. Through this statement, we realize that the persona has discovered that work is not the only thing in life. The laborers feel separated from their families and are lost in a different world looking for work. The persona finally returns home after losing out on getting a job.

A new historicist or a cultural critic will give this poem quite an interesting approach. The poem is a representation of the depression that was experienced in the 1930s. There is a sense of loneliness, helplessness, desperation, and numerous challenges experienced by those who were poverty-stricken during those times. A new historicist will be interested in analyzing this poem from the perspective of historical timelines and the sufferings experienced by laborers. The poem gives a picture of what was happening during this period. The laborers were not only thinking about work but were also concerned about their families. A cultural critic will probably give the poem a different approach from a historicist by arguing that looking for work was not anything strange since it was part of the culture of these people. As a result, the sentimentality with which the poem is presented would not be so intense with cultural critics.

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1. IvyPanda. "Levertov's "Mid-American Tragedy" and "What Work Is"." January 9, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/levertovs-mid-american-tragedy-and-what-work-is/.


IvyPanda. "Levertov's "Mid-American Tragedy" and "What Work Is"." January 9, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/levertovs-mid-american-tragedy-and-what-work-is/.


IvyPanda. 2022. "Levertov's "Mid-American Tragedy" and "What Work Is"." January 9, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/levertovs-mid-american-tragedy-and-what-work-is/.


IvyPanda. (2022) 'Levertov's "Mid-American Tragedy" and "What Work Is"'. 9 January.

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