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Peter Lommen

10-17-10
Honors English 10
Schnoor 1-4
Analysis of Literary Structure and Theme in “Habitation” and “Love Accident”

Trip
(tr p)
n.
1. A going from one place to another; a journey.
2. A stumble or fall.

According to www.thefreedictionary.com, the word “trip” has two completely

different common meanings; in common speech, these are very rarely confused.

However, when the word is used to describe the ever-touchy subject of love, this

distinction is blurred. One might argue, as Margaret Atwood does in her short poem

“Habitation,” that love is a “trip” – a long, gradual journey that all too possibly has no

clear end to it. Or, like Merrit Chelsay Minnis in her similar work, “Love Accident,” one

might believe that love is indeed a “trip” – a sudden stumble, arising from mishap or

misfortune, whose only destination is the unforgiving ground. Their use of the same word

but different definition to describe love can lead to great confusion. Nevertheless,

“Habitation” and “Love Accident” both argue that love is a trip; though the authors differ

in their opinions of what type love truly is, very similar literary structure and tone is used

to describe it.

Obvious at first glance is the authors’ use of very similar punctuation to

emphasize each poem’s respective and very different theme—that is, punctuation is

virtually nonexistent in both. Each has (“each” is a singular noun, so “each [one] has,”

instead of “each have”) only three commas (apiece doesn’t work because it’s a singular

noun), and Atwood’s poem lacks even a period, merely ending with, “we are learning to

make fire” (Atwood, 13). “Love Accident” is only marginally more organized, with

Minnis employing a mere three periods throughout the entire piece. However, this shared
Peter Lommen
10-17-10
Honors English 10
Schnoor 1-4
lack of punctuation is used in each to achieve opposite views upon their mutual subject.

“Habitation” takes advantage of the fluidity lent to it by its succinct punctuation to

emphasize the idea that the process of falling in love is unending—that one never reaches

a metaphorical conclusion to his/this “trip.” However, Minnis takes the sense of unity

that is prolific in (perpetrate has a negative connotation and means “to commit,” or “to do

in a tasteless manner”) her (you had “Love Accident” as the subject, so “her” wouldn’t

work here) work, and uses it to demonstrate how that trip can flash past in the blink of an

eye. (I don’t really understand this sentence; where did the unity come from and how

does it demonstrate that love is sudden?) It is used to give the piece a sense of extreme

haste—almost (create long dashes by putting two short dashes between two words

without any spaces, and then typing a space after the second word—should be automatic)

as if one couldn’t read the words on the page fast enough to fully appreciate how quickly

one can stumble and end up face-down in love. (Again, what is used? The unity that

mysteriously appeared? I really like how this sentence begins, and the ending was fine,

but a little awkward because it wasn’t quite congruent with your point) Stringent

rationing of punctuation is employed effectively in both poems to achieve separate ends.

Similarly, the staggering enjambment that characterizes both works also serves to

convey their contrary ideas. In each, verses are cut off at what are seemingly the worst

places possible. Lines such as four and five of Atwood’s work (“The edge / of the

desert”) and thirteen through sixteen of Minnis’ (“two eagles tangled / their wings over /

a canyon”) utilize an awkward, shambling style of line-break. (When quoting line breaks,

there is a space before and after the forward slash) However, this technique is used

successfully to emphasize their differing themes about falling in love. Atwood’s use of
Peter Lommen
10-17-10
Honors English 10
Schnoor 1-4
versification illustrates the staggering, plodding progress that one makes in the journey of

love. Like a cart with square wheels, love doesn’t go fast, but does slowly, painfully

move forward. Minnis, on the other hand, uses the stumbling poetic structure of her prose

to emphasize the feeling that the speaker has, quite literally, fallen into love, entirely

through some unforeseen misfortune. Again, a similarity between these two texts

eventually reveals the polarizing stances on love that each takes.

Lighting upon a different literary tool that these pieces once again use to enforce

their conflicting ideas, both Atwood and Minnis use negative tone words in their

respective works to display their dissatisfaction or reluctance about their progress down

love’s path; they exploit the same implement for very different reasons. The texts are

both characterized by melancholy phrases such as “where painfully and with wonder”

(Atwood, 12) and “love/came like a thresher” (Minnis, 21-22), neither of which highlight

their opinions on love in any uncertain terms: it is something their respective speakers

mutually regret, and seem to share a despairing abhorrence for their journeys into the

mire of love. However, their reasons for experiencing these scarring emotions are again

quite different: the speaker from “Habitation” is rather dissatisfied with the road that her

love has taken; it is not as she wished it to be. Minnis’ protagonist doesn’t enjoy her

situation any more than Atwood’s, but she is unhappy because she didn’t want to fall in

love at all, yet she was “stuck… tangled… and… hooked” (Minnis, 11, 13, 15, 17) in

love’s embrace. Once more, their different ideas about love as a “trip” are highlighted by

their similarities.

And now, the end of this essay’s “trip” has come. But what kind of trip was it? Is

this analysis merely a straight drop down from a hypothesis to a foredrawn conclusion,
Peter Lommen
10-17-10
Honors English 10
Schnoor 1-4
with an inevitable answer? Or is it a reasoned journey, passing by specific points and

arguments along its path, that eventually lead it to an ultimate result? Minnis and Atwood

certainly might disagree on that question. As already stated, both have a habit of using

the exact same structure and tone to draw completely divergent ideas from the other’s –

perhaps something like the debate between “Habitation” and “Love Accident” could be

drawn from any ideas they might have about this essay’s course. When these poems are

looked at objectively, it becomes clear that they are paradoxical reflections of each other:

the salt and pepper of the texts – that is, their literary techniques and instruments – are

quite the same, but their metaphorical meat and potatoes – their theme - their raisons

d'être, (and that of any piece of literature), are poles apart from each other.