I need help understanding "Lambert Hutchins" in Spoon River Anthology.

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thanatassa's profile pic

thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Poem 141 of the Spoon River Anthology, "Lambert Hutchins", is narrated in the first person by the eponymous speaker Lambert Hutchins, who is dead and looking back and reflecting on his life. As with many of the speakers in the collection, Hutchins feels that his success in his life has come at the cost of failure in human relationships. 

He mainly reflects on what he has left behind. First, he mentions an obelisk, suggesting that he has an expensive and beautiful grave site. Next, he talks about an ornate neo-gothic mansion he built on a hill overlooking the town. His more important monument, though, was the Chicago railroad and waterfront industrial development which he supported as a member of the House of Representatives. The poem obliquely connects his wealth with his vote for the railroad development. This suggests that his vote was bought as part of the large scale bribery associated with the grant to the Illinois Central Railroad which was plagued with accusations of corruption during this period. Hutchins justifies his acts as needed to provide financial security for his daughters. His daughters, though, perhaps aware of their father's criminality, grew up unhappy and nervous and married as soon as possible to get away from home.  

At the end of the poem, Hutchins expresses regret for his actions. 

amarang9's profile pic

amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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These poems are all epitaphs; they are all spoken by the dead themselves. Many of them are gloomy. This one is no exception. Lambert notes that, in addition to his tombstone (the granite obelisk), he has two other monuments. One is the house on the hill and the other is a lakefront property near an industrial part of Chicago, which is described as “foul as a sty.” Lambert probably owned a factory here. It seems that he also served in the House of Representatives. He noted that his intentions in all these endeavors were to provide a better future for subsequent generations: namely his daughters.  However, he concludes that this was all worthless because he ended up being the victim of gossip, rumor and probably even envy. His daughters married quickly to escape this lifestyle.

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