Attitude is the feeling that the persona has towards the subject matter, especially as revealed through the tone he or she uses to talk about the subject matter. It may be negative or positive depending on the message or the nature of the topic the persona wishes to address. However, the words negative and positive are too general. Some more specific terms than these are usually used in describing an attitude in poetry and all the other works of literature.
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In the poem My Papa’s Waltz by Theodore Roethke, several attitudes are evident. Identifying these attitudes depends on the perspective from which one views the poem.
If one views this poem from the vantage point that the father is a problem to his son, then all sorts of negative adjectives will appropriately describe his attitude towards his father. On the other hand, if one thinks the son is happy about everything he does with the father, then the attitude has to be a positive one.
This work adopts a vantage point that views the son as being so much embarrassed by what his father, who is drunk, takes him through. He, however, has to endure everything for the love he has for his father. He endures the bad whiskey smell from his father and the violent style the father makes him dance. He is not happy about this but has to do it because he loves his father.
The persona adopts a nostalgic tone to show how much he misses his father. This tone implies that the persona is only reminiscing what he used to do with his father. Even though the images he uses; death, romped, slid, held, palm caked, and clinging depict violence, they, in the long run, make up sweet memories for the speaker. They show how much he misses the days he used to dance with his father.
The speaker has a very affectionate attitude towards his father despite the violent treatment he receives from him. He does not even care about the smell of whiskey his father emits; neither does he care about the pain his father inflicts on him. He continues following him everywhere and dances with him in a violent manner.
Despite enjoying what he does with his father, he sympathizes with him. He pities him for having hurt his knuckles and for having his hand hardened by dirt. Perhaps he hurt himself while drunk and hardened his hands while working hard to earn a living for his family.
From the poet’s choice of words, it is clear that the son is very tolerant of the father. The father arrives at home drunk and smelling whiskey, but his son does not run away from him.
Instead, they hold hands and dance from the kitchen to the boy’s bedroom. He also tolerates the father’s violence when he beats him and makes him dance very violently. His tolerance is compared to death; it is of a very high degree. He wishes his father could treat him better than he does.
In a nutshell, the son nostalgically remembers how his father used to treat him. He feels good having gone through all those activities with his father but wishes his father could have been less violent than he was. He also wishes he was not a drunkard.