Term Paper: Work Poems Unfulfilling Work: Paying Our Dues

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Work Poems

Unfulfilling Work: Paying Our Dues

Hard Work" by Stephen Dunn and "What I Wouldn't Do" by Dorianne Laux are poems that explore the experience of unfulfilling work. Although neither poem says so explicitly, the work described in the poems is not the kind of work a person obtains an education to do or dreams of doing as children. These are not jobs that allow people to do what they love to do, where the hours fly by happily, and suddenly it's time to go home. The poems deal with work that is menial, repetitive, and boring in atmospheres that are less then ideal. Both narrators seem to be looking back from a standpoint of more rewarding work, but neither voice suggests nostalgia or a longing to return to the "good old days." Nevertheless, the experiences called up in these poems are so common as to be nearly universal. Almost everyone has done a job which was not his/her "life work."

Hard Work" is set in a Coca Cola bottling plant in the 1950s before total automation and robots. The narrator's job is to carry empty bottles to the line. The narrator is about 16 years old and takes the job reluctantly because he wanted to go to camp with his friends. His father tells him hard work will be good for him and make him a man. What boy doesn't want to be a man? Then the poet uses irony.

In the next line a "man" the boy works with urinates in an empty coke bottle and places it back on the line to be filled up with Coke for someone to buy and drink later. It is a deliberately malicious act, not the kind of behavior a father would want his son to copy, one that shows negatively how to be "a man." The poet implies the man did it because he hates the work (and the company by extension).

Later, the boy himself with a sense of anger, and emulating what he saw earlier, breaks some of the bottles deliberately, again for revenge and to impress the other men he works with. His "petty act of free will" is a way to get even for all the mindless hours spent on the line working for the riches of someone else. Coke, after all, is the quintessential American product. The Company reaps billions of dollars a year in profits, selling Coke in every country in the world, while the workers suffer hours on end of boredom, low pay, and a body that "hurt with that righteous hurt men have brought home for centuries." The term righteous hurt implies that "hard" work is supposed to be noble, a myth the narrator's father seems to have internalized but the narrator rejects. The narrator is intelligent and probably suffers more than non-thinking workers. He is young and so, probably longs for freedom. He states he quit before the summer was over "exercising the prerogatives of my class," which implies his family is at least middle class and can afford for him not to work and spend his money on his girl friend. He reflects that his job has now been eliminated, but not the painful boredom of working on the line. He feels sorry for the person working there now who has no opportunity to express frustration because of cameras, time-standards observers, and he adds, a guilty conscience (the voice of "some father or husband in himself").

This last implies that he did feel guilty for breaking the Coke bottles even though he bragged about it to the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Work Poems Unfulfilling Work: Paying Our Dues.  (2005, July 13).  Retrieved August 19, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/work-poems-unfulfilling-paying/1646541

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"Work Poems Unfulfilling Work: Paying Our Dues."  Essaytown.com.  July 13, 2005.  Accessed August 19, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/work-poems-unfulfilling-paying/1646541.