“The Meal” Poem by Susan Berger

Poetry is by far the most powerful means of expressing ones thoughts and ideas, although these ideas are not always explicitly stated. There is no aspect of human relationships that poetry cannot describe. The relationships between parents and their children have always been a subject of thorough analysis in psychology; as far as literature is concerned, we can say for a fact that a great number of books were dedicated to this topic. However, we cannot say the same about the poetry, but still it is possible to single out some bright examples.

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For instance, we should mention the poem “The Meal, written by Susan Berger and the poem “The Suicide Notes”. At first glance it may seem, that these works of literature have nothing in common (naturally, except the major theme), but if we look below the surface it will quite possible for us to see that that these poems have many hidden messages, that the authors just imply. We should analyze these poems in terms of their style, figures of speech, irony, and the tone.

It stands to reason that interpretation of poetry is a subjective notion, and my opinion cannot be the only possible variant, and someone can easily disagree with it. The first poem that we are going to discuss is called “The Meal”. The first impression that this poem produces is the atmosphere of peace and calmness, but this is just a deceptive façade. It may seem to be the embodiment of perfect family relationships; but closer analysis will convince us otherwise. The line “Their forks move across their plates without scrapingproves that something is wrong with this family, probably children are very afraid of their parents, because every misdeed can be severely punished. Moreover, the author employs a very interesting stylistic device as metaphor “Their braids still gleaming in the silence”. It entirely changes our perception of this poem. It appears that the tension can be felt in the air, as if calm before the storm that is about to strike. Besides, Susan Berger describes this family in somewhat ironic way, naturally, this irony is directed against parents, or probably it would be better to say the father who seems to be the central figure in this picture “The father carving the Sunday roast, his mouth uneven as a torn hibiscus”. Another stylistic device, which is frequently used by the author, is simile, for example, “The hands of the children are oval and smooth as pine-nuts”. At first, it conjures up a nice-looking picture in our mind but this hyperbole makes us understand that this family has its dark secret. Judging from this “family portrait” it is quite possible for us to deduce that the domestic violence is something recurrent in this family. Thus we can draw a conclusion the peculiar feature of this poems is the authors slightly ironic style, which at first creates the illusion of family idyll, but soon this illusion dissipates.

If we try to compare and contrast this poem with “The Suicide Notes”, it is worth mentioning that these poems have something in common. The first similar feature is that slight touch of irony, which becomes very tangible if we take a closer look at the figures of speech. For example in the opening lines of “The Suicide Notes”, the author says “dear mother and father. I apologize for disappointing you”. The very tone seems to be a little bit official, as if this poem is the letter of apology. At first, it may seem that the girl, who wrote these lines, is sorry for disappointing her parents expectations. Nevertheless, later it becomes obvious that this is just irony, aimed against parents who believe that their child is always supposed to fulfill certain functions in the society. It would be better to prove this statement by the quotation, the author says, “If only I were a son, shoulders broad as the sunset threading through pine, I would swagger through life muscled and bored and assured”. The point is that parents do not always realize that their children do not want to “swagger through life”. This metaphor is by far the most prominent in this poem.

It is also worth mentioning that the fear of mistakes is the recurring motif in these two poems. For example, the children, who are depicted in the poem “The Meal”, are extremely afraid of any discontent from their parents, for example “The girls have braided and rebraided their hair and tied ribbons without a single mistake.”

The same goes for “The Suicide Notes”. The main character says that “each failure” was like “a glacier” and “each disapproval” was like “a bootprint”. Thus, we can arrive at the conclusion that parents must always be more lenient with their children, because otherwise it may lead to a horrible disaster.

As far as the distinctions between these two poems are concerned, that the two authors try to convent the main message in different ways. For example, the very name “The Suicide Note” indicates that the tragedy has already befallen, whereas Susan Berger tries to mislead the reader and creates the illusion of peace and calm, and only subtle details allow us to see the true image of this family. Moreover, the poem “The Suicide Note” abounds in somewhat romantic figures of speech, like for instance “the snow burdens my crippled wings, my tears drop like bitter cloth softly into the gutter before ” It creates the impression that the main character is an outcast.

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Thus, having analyzed these two poems from stylistic point of view that we say that the common feature that have is the frequent use of stylistic devices that show the ironical attitude of the two authors. As regards the distinctions between them, is the tone; “The Suicide Note” is full of stylistic devices that create a very dark atmosphere.


Kirszner & Mandell. “Portable Literature”. Palgrave, 2007.

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