Frost?S ?Home Burial? Essay, Research Paper
Visual Imagery in Frost?s ?Home Burial?
Frost, within his poems, seems primarily concerned with the reader?s ability to comprehend the psychological ?landscape? of the person (or persons) that he is depicting. This aspect of his works, as well as his great love of nature and landscape depiction, both contribute to the environment that he has created within ?Home Burial?. The reader of ?Home Burial? does not achieve a comprehensive view of the psychological landscape of the two characters through first person accounts; however, throughout the dialogue and the interaction of the two characters, the reader may come to infer the major psychological attributes of each and to understand the dynamic within that relationship under the present circumstances. Frost enables the reader to comprehend these phenomena through the use of visual imagery and spatial relation between the two characters.
In the first scene, the initial dynamic between the two characters is established, ?He saw her from the bottom of the stairs?(1). So, here, the reader is provided with a very specific spatial relation between the two characters, that of a woman, being viewed by a man from the bottom of a staircase, as the woman ? was starting down, \ Looking back over her shoulder at some fear?(2-3). There is a sudden change of spatial relation when the two meet on the stairs, the man ?mounting until she cowered under him?(11). This abrupt change in the spatial relativity of the two characters mirrors their collective psychological topography. The woman, who is later introduced as ?Amy? and presumably the wife of
this man, is superior to her husband in her acute emotional awareness and sensitivity, therefore the perspective achieved in her descending the staircase from her elevated
emotional status is appropriate to the psychological realm. However, when this dynamic is dissolved within their relationship, all the reader is left to see is her ?cowering? under him, indicating her status as a subservient, socioeconomically as well as physically.
This reversal of roles continues, as the husband ascends the staircase, approaching Amy?s world of emotion, trying to find out ?What it is? that she sees that he does not. He must ascend the stairs to achieve this insight, because he must utilize Amy?s emotion that is ?So small the window frames the whole of it?. The comment on the part of the man that the window frame is ?not much larger than a bedroom?(25-26) allows the reader to infer that the dynamic that is being experienced in this discourse is the sum of their relationship, and that all feeling and connection that the relationship had was dissolved with the death of their child. This creates a feeling of confinement within this dynamic, as does the staircase, each only able to move up or down in opposition to one another, but never able to ?expand? outward within the constraints of their relationship. The concept of ?blindness? plays into this symbolic world as well, Amy calling her husband a ?blind creature?(16). The combination of these two specific terms is what gives the reader such a visual concept of the husband?s psychological make-up. He is, here, not only a creature, one who is unable to experience human emotions entirely, but a ?blind? creature, devoid of both the ability to see emotionally and the ability to literally ?see? the physical landscape, the graveyard, and his child?s grave specifically. This ?blindness? is the reason that ?in her place? Amy ?refuses him any help?. Until Amy?s husband acknowledges her as
an equal entity within their relationship, she will never help him to enter her world of emotion and enable him to express their collective grief over the death of the their child.
At this point, the motion does tend outward, but in opposing directions, again. As Amy’s husband has ascended the staircase to try to reach Amy?s emotional level, the house suddenly becomes suffocating to her and she ?must get out of here?must get air?(39). Prior to this, Amy?s mental and emotional world was seemingly the only place for her to retreat from the physical control that her husband had exercised over her. Now that he is attempting to usurp even that part of her private being, she is forced to take the emotion ?out of the house? and out of their relationship. The reader, however, is meant to see this as a universal constant when Amy makes the comment ?I don?t know rightly whether any man can?(40), that is ,talk about a child that he has lost. This translates the space of the separation within their relationship to the rest of the world, the eternal ?gap? between women and the man?s ability to understand their source and content of emotional expression.
Now the roles are reversed again, him standing at the top of the stairs, asking Amy ?don?t go to someone else this time. \ Listen to me. I won?t come down the stairs?(41-42). While entering Amy?s world of emotion here, the man seems willing to have her listen to him ?speak of his own child he?s lost?; however, when Amy moves away to escape the control he has on her, he loses sight of the proper emotion, becomes angry and says that ?I?ll come down to you?(72). His anger and confusion at Amy?s seemingly harsh and cold treatment of him is literally ?pushing? Amy out of their home and their collective emotional space. ?Her fingers moved the latch for all reply?(47) indicates that her husband?s inability to properly express his grief has so consumed the rest of their relationship, that they have reached a pivotal point-if she opens the latch, he knows that there is no hope that they will ever be able the reconcile, and, not only that, that he will lose control over her emotional as well as physical space that he has, until now, been master over. He makes a final plea, asking her to ?Let me into your grief . I?m not so much \ Unlike other folks as your standing there \ Apart would make me out?(63-64). This becomes the deciding factor, because even as the latch is a threat of a breach in the boundaries that he has set for their relationship and for her own ability to grow and expand within that relationship, he is still unable to comprehend and ?allow? her to experience her own grief and accept her emotions as well-founded, not just a sign that she ?overdoes it a little?.
After his show of control and emotional ignorance still, even after he has supposedly ?seen? what she sees, there is nowhere for Amy to move but out of the house. First, however, she recounts the progression of the grief . This is the single most visual scene in the entire poem. Amy says that, while she is inside the house going ?down the stairs and up the stairs?(83), her husband was outside digging their child?s grave, ?making the gravel leap and leap into the air?(79). However, when he returned to the house and the ?darkened parlor?, he ?stood the spade up against the wall \ Outside there in the entry?(91-92). So it is here we see that it is not her inability to share her emotion that has dissolved their relationship or his inability to make an outward show of emotion, it is his inability to share that emotion with her and to bring it into the house past ?the entry?. It is his emotional control that prevents this. All he can bring to her is ?three foggy mornings and one rainy day \ Will rot the best birch fence a man can build? (96-97). Here, again is the imagery of confinement, but it is a ?rotting fence? this time. It is this image that he brings to her, and although she does not see it as relevant to the ?darkened parlor?, it is her husband?s failed attempt to bring this image of their child?s death ?rotting? his emotional and physical control within his own life. This image, however, is foreign and unreachable to Amy, and all she can do is see this and his digging of their child?s grave as an offense to the ?window? of her own emotion. Here, she also makes another spatial analogy. The emotional movement that people undergo when a loved one dies is analogous to the movement into the literal grave. ?Friends make pretense of following to the grave, \ But before one is in it, their minds are turned \ And making the best of their way back to life? (108-109). This movement from the grave to the living is what Amy seems to say mirrors the movement that her husband has made, but she goes on to say ?But the world?s evil? (110). This is an indication that Amy sees her husband?s inability to accept the grief that accompanies the death of a child and his return to ?things they understand? is evil and unacceptable to her.
The final movement comes in Amy?s decision to finally take her need for emotional fulfillment and understanding elsewhere. After Amy has ?said it all?, her husband says that ?you feel better. \ You won?t go now. ?(112-113). Amy, however, has already begun to open the door. Emotionally, Amy is already far beyond her husband, yet to reconcile these feelings within herself she needs these to be realized fully by someone else and not simply ?think the talk is all?(116). From her previous comment about man?s inability to do this, the reader may gather that her outward movement will be towards other women, especially those who have lost a child and may share her pain as well. Neither the reader nor her husband, however, are allowed to know ?Where do you mean to go??(119), but in keeping with the rest of the poem, that is a plausible conclusion. The reader can infer from ?She was opening the door wider?(118), and the fact that she does not tell her husband where she is going, even though the conclusion is left with somewhat of an empty threat from her husband of ?I?ll follow and bring you back by force. I will! ?, that all there is here is an empty threat, because he can not follow her to the emotional space where she is going. Whether she escapes physically is left up to the reader, but the inference here is that of both an emotional and physical freedom from the constraints that he has placed on her in the past.
The role of the heroine in literature and in society has been one of the most hotly debated topics of the modern age. Here, Frost paints the reader a portrait of a female battling for emotional and physical control over her own life with her husband. His utilization of vivid visual and spatial imagery to create the effect of a battle for an intellectual and emotional place within their relationship gives the reader a chance to experience first hand the feelings of restriction and disregard that are put on a woman in Amy?s position. Amy, however, as the protagonist and heroine of this story must overcome these circumstances and break the boundaries her husband has set for her, emotionally and physically, and learn to create her own boundaries outside of his world.
Frost, Robert. ?Home Burial.? 1914. Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed.
Nina Baym, et al. New York: Norton, 1994. 1093-1096.