A Smile To Remember: Analysis

Charles Bukowski is a German-American poet, story-writer, and columnist who had written thousands of poems and short stories in the dirty realism literary movement. His poems were later published in 60 books. Bukowski writes poems about the lives of the poor Americans, relationships, women, which are partially influenced by the socio-political environment of his resident-city Los Angeles. He gives brilliant imagery at the crude level, where there are no appropriations or censoring of his ideas and thoughts.

A Smile To Remember: Analysis

The poet has used paradoxes in this poem to express his thoughts about a home where the mother gets beaten by the father at least thrice a week, yet she smiles and asks the son to smile and be happy too. The poet uses goldfish as a metaphor for the mother, as he wanted to express that, like the fish, the mother is unable to express her feelings or thoughts. She is unable to speak out about what is going on in her mind or what she is undergoing.

The poet has written this poem to show the normal household of poor people in Los Angeles, where violence is a normal phenomenon in their families, and the children had to witness it. The household becomes a mess, and the women in the house cannot express themselves or the things that they have been going through.

The fathers are violent, but they don’t know themselves what makes them an animal. They could be the problems they go through outside the house: recession, no jobs, no money, etc. But they take all their frustration and anger out in the form of blows on their wife and children when they reach home. They are helpless themselves that they have turned into monsters, and they have no control over it.

The poet has given a beautiful description of a dysfunctional household about domestic violence and children in the household. The poem provides beautiful imagery of the thoughts and views of a child who has been seeing his mother forcing him to be happy when she is not happy herself. Even when she smiles, sadness pours out of her eyes.

A Smile To Remember: Structure

In this poem, there are no rhyming schemes and patterns which are seen; the poet has written the poem free of any structure like that and has broken the sentences in a way that the flow of emotions is seen in the poem. The flow of expressions is apt and helps the readers to understand what the reader meant to say. For example:

“my mother, always smiling, wanting us all
to be happy, told me, ‘be happy Henry!’
and she was right: it’s better to be happy if you
but my father continued to beat her and me several times a week while
raging inside his 6-foot-two frame because he couldn’t
understand what was attacking him from within.”

The poet has used punctuation marks to arrange the pauses and stops in the poem, which helps the poet channelize the flow of expressions in the poem and helps the readers understand the poet’s expression. This is an efficient way of capturing the exact feelings and expressions of the poet in the poem.

The poet has repeatedly mentioned how the mother wanted her son to be happy, which shows how the mother was restless and worried that her life and condition at home is affecting his psychology, and she kept asking him to be cheerful. She even tried to show him how to smile, but the poet saw only sadness and unhappiness in her smile. The pot has written this poem from the perspective of a small boy, who witnesses his father beating his mother, and his mother still pretending to be unaffected, and smiling at him, ad asking him to be happy too.

A Smile To Remember: Theme

The theme of this poem is dirty realism and imagery, where the poet has used beautiful paradoxes to express how it feels for a child to be in a house where domestic violence is a common thing. The poet has chosen a child’s perspective to show how it feels to grow up in a house where your mother is beaten up by your father, and she just cannot do anything. Burkowski uses the goldfish as a paradox and metaphor to describe the mother and her nature of keeping quiet and hiding her pain behind her smile. The father is a man who takes his frustration and aggression out on the mother, and he himself doesn’t realize what makes him the monster. This poem provides an insight into a small boy who sees an unhappy environment around him and is unable to do anything. But he watches his mother asking him to smile and be happy, which he is unable to do. He just wonders how his mother is expecting him to smile and be happy when she is in pain and suffering herself.

A Smile To Remember: Deep Meaning

If you ponder upon the deep meaning of the poem, the socio-economic conditions of the society affecting the household and families at the domestic level are highlighted. The poet tries to show how it feels to grow up in a house where one parent beats the other one, and there is nothing that could be done other than being silent about it. The mother loves her son, and she urges him to keep smiling and be happy. The mother is like the goldfish they had in their house, which died. Fish cannot express their pain and suffering to the human eyes, and his mother is going through similar things.

Other than A Smile to Remember: Analysis, also refer to A Smile to Remember: Summary.

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