Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
“You Are in Bear Country” is about the absurdity of humanity’s primal fears of nature’s dangers, such as bear attacks, when these fears are contrasted with humanity’s nonchalance about the threat of violence and annihilation in the nuclear age.
The bureaucrat intent on offering guidelines that promise safety shows only an inability to set forth definite or effective advice to keep readers out of trouble. This vapid civil servant may be a model for the kind of inept government bureaucrat in charge of supervising a country’s nuclear arsenal and, therefore, in charge of the preservation of the human race. The thought is not comforting.
What Kumin ultimately demonstrates is the extent of human ignorance about threats to human survival. She also demonstrates the grave limitations in the ability to ensure and promote human survival. Her tongue-in-cheek parody of a bureaucrat’s futile warnings becomes, in the end, bitter gallows humor of terrifying seriousness.