Human Nature In Maxine Kumin

’s Woodchucks Essay, Research Paper

Human Nature in Maxine Kumin s Woodchucks

Maxine s Kumin s Woodchucks is a literal description a sort of woodchuck hunt in her garden. Through further examination of her words, one can sense her suggestions about human nature. With her use of tone, the reader can observe a change in her demeanor from stanza to stanza. In the poem, the author is pestered by woodchucks that are eating and destroying her garden. At first, she attempts to kill them by purchasing cyanide gas. This attempt fails and the woodchucks continue to ruin her plants. She then resorts to shooting the woodchucks one by one with a rifle.

The first stanza sets the story for the reader. The poem jumps right into the scenario with the first line, Gassing the woodchucks didn t turn out right. Kumin says the knockout bomb that she purchased was featured as merciful, quick at the bone (line 4). This implies that she hoped the gas would be a quick and easy solution to her woodchuck problem. The final line in the stanza indicates that the first attempt was a failure. Even though she was able to create an airtight seal on both exits of the underground tunnels, the gas was ineffective because the woodchucks had a sub-sub basement out of range (line 6). The author uses repetition of the word sub to emphasize how the woodchucks den was deep enough to be out of the range of the gas. The tone in the first stanza is more neutral than anything else. It is a straight forward description of what is happening.

The second stanza describes how the problems still persists and the woodchucks are back at work on her garden once again. This is evident in lines 10 12, They brought down the marigolds and then took over the vegetable patch nipping the broccoli shoots, beheading the carrots . The verb beheading is a peculiar word to use. Maybe in a literal sense, the woodchucks have eaten away at the tops of the carrots, but the verb behead is a violent one. The use of such a word is a precursor or foreshadowing of what will take place later in the poem. In lines 8 and 9, the woodchucks came back, nor worse for the cyanide than we for our cigarettes and state-store Scotch, all of us up to scratch . Kumin uses the pronouns we and us . The reader would assume that Kumin would use I , but this could be her suggestion of human nature; we as people in general, us as the human race. Here, the point is made that a personal garden can provide food for us, but it is not our primary source of food. If the woodchucks were to destroy it completely, we can still manage because we can get of our food from supermarkets. Kumin states that if we (or she) can buy alcohol and cigarettes, than we can afford to purchase food. In addition, the fact that the author drinks and smokes might lead one to think of the narrator as someone who is stressed-out and edgy. This will come into play with her actions in the later stanzas.

The third stanza has a very angry, malicious, vengeful tone. The food from our mouths, I said, righteously thrilling to the feel of the .22, the bullets noses (lines 14, 15); this line uses hyperbole by. As mentioned earlier, she is not dependent on the garden as her only source of food, so the food is not literally being taken from her mouth. She describes herself as a pacifist fallen from grace (lines 15). Here she begins to infer something about human nature. She describes herself as a peaceful person who is driven to the point of obsession with killing the woodchucks. This simply suggests there is something in all of us. That we all have the ability to snap if we are driven beyond our breaking points. At this moment, the situation has become personal. The woodchucks have acted as a catalyst to stir up a desire within the author to kill. Words such as puffed with Darwinian pieties for killing , righteously thrilling, describe a tone of rising tension and emotions.

The fourth stanza describes how her killer instinct has taken over her so much that she shoots a mother woodchuck. Kumin uses imagery to paint a vivid picture of the dying animals. She (mother) flipflopped in the air and fell, her needle teeth still hooked in a leaf (lines 20, 21). The tone in this stanza is one of increasing rage and insanity as she kills a baby woodchuck, the murderer inside me rose up hard, the hawkeye killer came on stage forthwith (lines 23, 24).

The final stanza describes the author s persistence as she aspires to kill the final woodchuck that keeps me cocked and ready day after day after day (line 25). Her use of repetition emphasizes her persistence. She is so obsessed with the last woodchuck that she even dreams of hunting him down, I dream I sight along the barrel in my sleep (line 28). The tone quickly changes through for the final two lines, If only they d all consented to die unseen gassed underground the quiet Nazi way. She refers to gassing, just as she did in the poem s very first line. It is almost as if she regrets killing them they way she did. Killing them with gas is easier for people to deal with, vs. killing each one individually in such a graphic fashion. A systematic killing, i.e. gassing, is a much easier way to eliminate and much less personal. This is another gesture about human nature. It is easier to cope with taking a life if you don t have to see the look at their face. Line 16 mentions that she draws a bead on the littlest woodchucks face . The author has morphed from a pacifist to a killer, yet she wishes it hadn t come to that. She wishes she could have gassed the woodchucks and that would have been the end of it. Kumin is offering that it is human to have a mean streak within us, and perhaps we are not all evil because we have guilt.


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