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In the poem "The Black Snake" by Mary Oliver, is the snake a character or a theme ?I'd...

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monalisa909 | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

Posted November 20, 2010 at 10:03 PM via web

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In the poem "The Black Snake" by Mary Oliver, is the snake a character or a theme ?

I'd like to have a full explanation please.

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jmj616 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted November 21, 2010 at 12:10 AM (Answer #1)

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The black snake in Mary Oliver's poem must be considered, on the simplest level, as a character in a story.  The snake slides onto the road, "the truck could not swerve," the snake is killed, and the narrator carries the dead snake into the bushes.

On a deeper level, this character, and the story it is involved in, serve as a vehicle for the poet to consider the themes of death and life.

After disposing of the snake, the narrator considers some of the negative aspects of death:

  its suddenness,
its terrible weight,
its certain coming.

Death, however, does not extinguish the glory of life.  There is a "brighter fire" that "says to oblivion: not me!"

There is a "light at the center of every cell," a mysterious life-force, whose beauty--even if temporary--is so great that death cannot darken it.

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