In her poem “Snapping Beans” Lisa Parker opens up a beautiful world of family relationships. The reader is invited to share the relaxing, liberating, and calm atmosphere of the Southern world, described vividly by the author. The storyline is clearly presented, the imagery is bright and emotional, and the structure contributes to the overall impression. In Lisa Parker’s poem “Snapping Beans”, a young woman faces clarity of change in the turning corner of life’s transition into adulthood while still embracing adolescent family values and not letting her new life tarnish the strong bond she shares with her grandmother.
On one hand, the young girl is fascinated with the new life she has in the North. When asked, she immediately wants to share the things she likes there. One can see how strongly the new information has impacted her. She points out that the books and lectures she has are like “revelations” that are “as real as any shout of faith” (Parker 17-18). At the same time she hints that they also may be dangerous, “potent as a swig of strychnine” (Parker 19). So, from these lines the reader can see the internal struggle that this young girl experiences. The reader is set to wondering why she would compare to the poison the wealth of information found in books.
The answer to that question is found a couple of lines further. When grandmother gently takes her chin in her hands it seems that a flood of emotions overtakes the girl. She wants to tell her grandmother “about the nights I cried into the familiar/Heartsick panels of the quilt she made me” (Parker 27-28). This indicates how strong the bond between them is and how difficult it was to be far away from the grandmother. Even the word “heartsick” lets the reader feel the pain and immediately recall a similar situation that almost every person has had. This way, we are able to associate with the troubles of the heroine.
The whole poem is a struggle to balance the love for home, for the grandmother, for her native place with the new awareness of how big the world is and all the new things that can be discovered in it. Despite having a desire to tell her granny that she often cried looking at the evening star, the girl is immediately overcome by another wish. She wants to tell her family that the evening star is, in fact, a planet. This quick transition further indicates that emotions just change one after the other; it is difficult for the young woman to handle them.
One can even see a somewhat rebellious note in the girl’s voice when she wants to share about her new friends who “wore noserings and wrote poetry/About sex, about alcoholism, about Buddha” (Parker 32-33). She seems to be sorry understanding that this piece of information will not be accepted by the grandmother, even though she would like to share it. And finally, this intense struggle between family values and new life culminates with her relating the experience of “slow-simmering guilt of being happy” (Parker 39). This one line sums up how the girl is happy but also cautious about this feeling because she is not supposed to be happy in an alien place.
The structure of the poem should not be omitted when trying to understand the content. In fact, literary devices that Lisa Parker uses help to set the mood and carry the reader from one thought of the poem to the other. Frequent use of alliteration, for example, sets the reader to a kind of a rhythm and makes the flow of the work smooth. The author uses this device a lot at the beginning of the poem when describing the nature, the porch and the time of the day. Together with the image of the sun rising, and the alliteration used to describe it, the reader sinks into some sort of a meditation.
Moreover, the use of parallel structures in the poem is more than abundant. Parker repeats the phrase “I wanted to tell her” (16, 26, 30, 34) a lot. Also, such words as “from” (5), “about” (33), and “speaking” (36, 37) are repeated several times in one line, making stronger emphasis on the emotions of the person. Finally, it is interesting how two phrases frame the whole poem. It starts with “I snapped beans into the silver bowl” (Parker 1). After all mental struggles the girl has through the course of the poem we encounter another phrase: “we snapped beans into the silver bowl” (Parker 42). This is when we know that the poem draws to the end, the mood is back to being peaceful; and the reader is invited to contemplate on the poem.
In order to have a full appreciation of the poem’s meaning one must also consider the role of the grandmother in it. The way she is described, the ways she behaves, and things that she says are all important. Grandmother is described indirectly by Lisa Parker, like “the soft gray of her stare” (13), “the leather of her hand” (20), or “slick smooth of her palm” (23); but it is not difficult to imagine her appearance. She is an old and wise woman. One might have the impression that she knows about the inner struggle of her granddaughter and understands it.
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The final phrase she utters is the evidence for this. “It’s funny how things blow loose like that” (Parker 46). While it is said about the leaf blown away from the branch, the reader can draw a parallel to the young woman who is blown away from her home. By saying this, grandmother let’s her granddaughter understand that she knows about her troubles and that, in a sense, she blesses her to be happy in the new place.
As it is clear from the careful analysis of the poem, the heroine faces a serious dilemma trying to balance the family values of her home with the new experiences of adulthood in her life. The poem is full of conflicting emotions but also of calmness, which assures the reader that all worries and insecurities are eventually resolved.
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