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Prompt: Read the following poem carefully. Write an essay in which you discuss how the choice of detail,
diction, and syntax are used to reveal the speakers attitude to the subject.

Snapping Beans For Fay Whitt by Lisa Parker

I snapped beans into the silver bowl 1
that sat on the splintering slats 2
of the porchswing between my grandma and me. 3
I was home for the weekend, 4
from school, from the North, 5
Grandma hummed What A Friend We Have In Jesus 6
as the sun rose, pushing its pink spikes 7
through the slant of cornstalks, 8
through the fly-eyed mesh of the screen. 9
We didnt speak until the sun overcame 10
the feathered tips of the cornfield 11
and Grandma stopped humming. I could feel 12
the soft gray of her stare 13
against the side of my face 14
when she asked, Hows school a-goin? 15
I wanted to tell her about my classes, 16
the revelations by book and lecture 17
as real as any shout of faith, 18
potent as a swig of strychnine. 19
She reached the leather of her hand 20
over the bowl and cupped 21
my quivering chin; 22
the slick smooth of her palm held my face 23
the way she held cherry tomatoes under the spigot, 24
careful not to drop them, 25
and I wanted to tell her 26
about the nights I cried into the familiar 27
heartsick panels of the quilt she made me, 28
wishing myself home on the evening star. 29
I wanted to tell her 30
the evening star was a planet, 31
that my friends wore noserings and wrote poetry 32
about sex, about alcoholism, about Buddha. 33
I wanted to tell her 34
how my stomach burned acidic holes 35
at the thought of speaking in class, 36
speaking in an accent, speaking out of turn, 37
how I was tearing, splitting myself apart 38
with the slow-simmering guilt of being happy 39
despite it all. 40
I said, Schools fine. 41
We snapped beans into the silver bowl between us 42
and when a hickory leaf, still summer green, 43
skidded onto the porchfront, 44
Grandma said, 45
Its funny how things blow loose like that. 46
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Regina Zbarskaya
Ms. Nichole Wilson
AP Literature and Composition
28 May 2014
Poetry Essay
Identity is made up of two parts; one is inherited from parental influences and the other is
discovered through experience. However, neither can be ignored or forgotten. It is the
culmination of both that makes each individual unique and true, and acceptance of both is crucial
for the growth of an individual to occur. In Lisa Parkers, Snapping Beans, she portrays the
influence of the grandmothers culture on the thoughts of the narrator through the use of
religious diction and the struggle of the narrator to accept both parts of her identity through
changes in diction and syntax from the beginning of the poem to the end.
The narrator first describes her grandmother in terms of a song, What a Friend We Have
In Jesus (Parker 6), before indicating that the lessons she learns in school can be comparable to
the lessons her grandmother was taught in revelations (Parker 17), faith (Parker 18) and
strychnine (Parker 19). The diction relating to religion reinforces the idea that the narrators
grandmother represents the religious side of the narrators identity that was introduced to her at a
young age. One part of the narrators identity is constituted by the religion that her grandmother
taught to her in her childhood while the second part of the narrators identity is composed of the
lessons she learned in school; that the evening star was a planet (Parker 31), that her friends
wore noserings and wrote poetry about sex, about alcoholism, about Buddha (Parker 32-33).
The narrator discovered a new culture, one slightly more obscene than the one she was exposed
to by her grandmother and is now conflicted over which she prefers to identify with. The narrator
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clearly adores her grandmother and the culture she represents, as evidenced by the fact that she
cried into the familiar heartsick panels of the quilt the grandmother made her, wishing
[herself] home one the evening star (Parker 27-29). And yet she also felt herself tearing,
splitting [herself] apart with the slow-simmering guilt of being happy despite it all (Parker 38-
39). The change in diction from the beginning where she wished to return to her grandmother
to the feeling of slow-simmering guilt indicates the narrator in constantly on the border
between accepting one identity or the other. In fact, the narrator indicates through a complex
sentence all of the things she wanted to tell (Parker 34) her grandmother and yet abruptly
resigns to just say Schools fine (Parker 41) when finally giving her answer. The change in
syntax from complex to simple sentence structure indicates the volumes of information that the
granddaughter wants to speak to the grandmother but cannot because she has not accepted both
parts of her identity yet. In addition, the repetition of I wanted in lines 16, 26, 30, and 34
further indicates that the narrator has not fully accepted all parts of her identity. If she cannot
voice all of the things she wants to say to her grandmother, then she has not fully appreciated
both parts of her identities and is not proud enough of either to voice them out loud.
Stephen Dedalus from James Joyces Ulysses undergoes the same cultural influence of
family values and conflict between parts of identities as he is on his quest to consolidate his
identity within the novel. Dedalus was raised in a strict Catholic family, and on his travels away
from home began developing an artistic identity. When his mother was on her deathbed, she
asked for Dedalus to pray for her, but he refused; he was quick to shrug off one identity for
another and later felt guilt for not accepting both parts of himself. The influence of his familys
Catholic culture upon Stephen Dedalus is evident through the Catholic words and allusions that
appear within his thoughts, similar to the religious words that arose in the narrators thoughts,
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and the repetition of phrases indicating guilt reappear in his thoughts as he thinks about his
family, much like how the narrators desires and regret for not speaking repeat in her thoughts
over and over again.
Stephen Dedalus thoughts first hint at the religious influence of his family as he
described himself in religious terms. As he gazed upon a bowl, he remembered the boat of
incense then at Clongowes (Joyce 11), which was a Catholic school that he attended as a child.
A mere bowl upon a table brought up thoughts of religion and religious learning, indicating that
his familys religious influence was strong enough in his childhood to still affect his thoughts in
adulthood. Furthermore, as he was getting angry at another woman for not paying attention to
him, he referred to her in terms of the Bible, calling her of mans flesh made not in Gods
likeness, the serpents prey (Joyce 14), indicating that when he is not paying attention, he
inadvertently uses the knowledge instilled in him by his religious upbringing.
As Dedalus continues with his thoughts, when his mind drifts to his memories of his
mother, the same haunting image reoccurs in his mind, of his mother coming to him after her
death, her wasted body within its loose brown graveclothes giving off an odour (Joyce 5), first
as he talks with Mulligan and later again, in a dream, silently she had come to him, her wasted
body within its loose graveclothes giving off an odour (Joyce 8) as he looks out to the sea by
himself in the tower. The repetition of the haunting image of his mother indicates that he has not
yet gotten over the pain he had caused his mother. Similar to the repetition in Snapping Beans,
and how the narrator is stuck in a situation where she wants to say something but cannot bring
herself to say anything yet, Dedalus experiences the repetition of his mothers ghost and is stuck
in a situation where he wants to repent but cannot because his mother is already dead. He
described pain, that was not yet the pain of love (Joyce 5) fretting his heart over abandoning
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his mother and attempting to assume another identity that was very similar to the slow-
simmering guilt and tearing apart the narrator from Snapping Beans experienced as she was
stuck between two identities. Dedalus is stuck between the religious and the art identifies he has
acquired over his journey, just as the narrator is stuck between the religious and scientific
identities she has acquired over her schooling. In both pieces of literature, the main characters
experience conflict and unsettlement over two identities, but if both learn to accept both parts
without sacrificing one over the other, the disquiet within their minds will settle.