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Themes and Critical Analysis of "Traveling through the

Uploaded by rio281 on Jul 27, 2006

Themes and Critical Analysis of "Traveling through the Dark" In William Stafford’s poem “Traveling through the Dark”, the theme of confrontation between wilderness and technology exists. This poem also deals with the difficulty of finding the right path, choosing to do the morally right thing. The speaker is a man traveling at night who finds a dead doe on the edge of the road. The doe was killed in an earlier collision with another vehicle: “a recent killing; she had stiffened already, almost cold.” The speaker faces a moral dilemma early in the poem: “It is usually best to roll them into the canyon: that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead.” Who is it best for, the deer or man? Is human life more important than animal life? These are questions that arise when reading Mr. Stafford’s poem. These are questions that the speaker must answer before the night is over. The speaker’s dilemma continues when he discovers that the deer is pregnant and the fawn is still alive: “I dragged her off; she was large in the belly. My fingers touching her side brought me to the reason – she side was warm; her fawn lay there waiting, alive, still, never to be born.” The man must make a decision which is at first glance obvious and easy but upon further analyzes the decision is one which involves a larger life – the wilderness. The moral dilemma of the poem, of society itself, ultimately becomes a personal dilemma for the man: “I thought hard for us all.” The speaker hesitates about what to do, “my only swerving,” yet he finally does what he initially was going to do, roll the doe into the canyon. Although the killing seems cruel and mean, the speaker does not seem hopeless or discouraged by it; he does not seem desperate. His tone and attitude seems resigned and somber, even resolute. He alone must decide the fate of the fawn. The speaker’s car represents the predator in this poem an d the deer is the prey. Throughout the poem the vehicle is described as an animal that stalks: “The car aimed ahead it lowered parking lights; under the hood purred the steady engine.” This predator and prey scenario is confrontation in its basic form; thi s is how nature intended wildlife to act. However, by using the car as a tool to kill, Mr. Stafford replaces the predatory animal with modern technology. He still uses the doe to represent wilderness but now it is being stalked by technology. We circle back to the theme of this poem: confrontation between technology and wilderness. This confrontation is an ongoing theme in real life as well. We as a society are willing to sacrifice wildlife in order to progress forward. Destroying acre upon acre of animal haven for the sake of convenience is a moral dilemma every member of mankind must face. We kill and destroy our planet and the life on it; we know in our hearts it is wrong, yet we continually do it. Our society struggles morally with this issue, but just the speaker in this poem, we do what we feel is best for man. Technology and the wilderness are presented as being human like. The wilderness “listens” as the vehicle “aimed ahead its lowered parking lights”, the engine “purred.” Images and personificat ions play an important part in this poem. Stating the “wilderness listen” gives insight to the larger life the doe is part of. Personifications allow the reader to understand that, while neither is human, both are influences on human values. The title of this poem reflects the difficulty of finding the right path, making the correct choice. Traveling through the dark is what people do prior to seeing the light, prior to making a decision. The process used to make hard decisions sometimes feels like darkness with no end, however, once a decision is made light seems to shine through. The harder the decision the longer the journey is down the dark road. The images are not out of the ordinary. The pictures they paint could be anywhere, at anytime. This makes the setting real, allowing the reader to believe that this decision may one day happen to them. The poem uses four four-line stanzas and a concluding two-line verse. There are no regular rhyme schemes and it is irregular in meter. It is a narrative desc ription of the speaker’s actions during the darkness. The poem seems to be set in a conversation style. The speaker is talking out loud, simply relaying the event of the night. Mr. Stafford’s poem is a thought-provoking piece. In just a few lines it makes the reader wonder what she would do. Is it fair to say that technology and the advancement of humankind more important than preserving wildlife? It is a very dark road we travel, hoping to find the right path.

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