Discuss the language usage and metaphorical references within the poem "What Work Is" by Philip Levine.I do not understand what I need to write here

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lynnebh eNotes educator| Certified Educator


The language of this poem is harsh and skeptical. The overall metaphor is of a man waiting in line for a job. The author, Philip Levine, worked by day in a car manufacturing plant in Detroit while he was going to night school, so he knows how hard it is to have to stand in a long, long line all day, waiting to see if the company is hiring, only to be told that no, there are not jobs today.

We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work

"Ford Highland Park" is the Ford plant. Men used to wait outside in the rainy, freezing weather in the hopes that there would be work. Most often, there was no work.

This is an angry poem. There is a lot of cold, angry imagery. The author uses metaphors and similes to show this.

Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision

The falling rain is "like mist".

Up ahead in front of you in line, you think you see your brother. This indicates that many, many people are out of work. Even your own brother may be in line.

with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to

No one wants to give up, to go inside, to stop waiting in line for work.

We glimpse a bit of the author's own life, when he says his brother is actually:

home trying to
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German

This is an image of the author himself who had to work by night and study by day.

If you go through the rest of the poem, you can pick out more metaphors and angry language.

Read the study guide:
What Work Is

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