In “My Papa’s Waltz” by Theodore Roethke, the waltz is used as a metaphor for describing the relationship between a father and his son. The readers are introduced to a visual flashback from the speaker’s childhood as to a night his father came back home intoxicated and proceeded to dance with his son. It is notable that the critical analysis of the poem could conclude that the poem has an underlying message of child abuse, but the author chooses not to confirm or deny it and leaves it to the readers’ interpretation. However, if one is to focus on what is being described, the relationship between the two is a positive one. While the dance between the father and his son was not joyful because the boy did not like that his father was intoxicated from alcohol as the smell of whiskey in his breath made the boy dizzy and uneasy.
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The playful encounter is also depicted as being annoying to the protagonist’s mother: “my mother’s countenance could not unfrown itself” (Roethke). The father was having fun showing his son how to waltz around the kitchen, thus causing havoc in the house, which made the mother dissatisfied. The final lines of the poem show a joyous occasion in an adult’s life from the son clinging to his father’s shirt, which shows that he is not really tired and wants to continue playing with his father and not going to bed. Therefore, despite the suggestions of critics of an abusive environment for the boy, the poem shows a loving and bonding relationship between a father and son, which is often complex and underrepresented in English poetry.
Roethke, Theodore. “My Papa’s Waltz.” Poetry Foundation, Web.