How does Louise Glück use imagery to shape meaning in the poem “Study of My Sister”?  

In Louise Glück's “Study of My Sister,” the imagery of the child building with blocks leads readers to reflect on the nature of beauty and creation as well as people's tendency to demand usefulness. The poem also presents contrasting images of the speaker's sister laying down her fork and talking about jumping off a cliff.

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Louise Glück's poem “Study of My Sister” begins with a general observation that in America, people value the things that are visible and concrete, that have specific uses and specific goals. The poem then shifts to an image of the speaker's sister putting her fork down. She has clearly been eating something, participating in a daily meal, going about her normal routine. Yet what she says next is clearly not part of that routine. She feels “as though she should jump off a cliff,” she proclaims. This is a rather cliche sort of image, yet it grasps readers' attention. We know exactly what the sister means and wonder if she is in earnest or only speaking in frustrated exaggeration.

The speaker goes on to explain that “a crime has been committed against a human soul.” We are not told what that crime is. Rather the speaker provides an extended image to help us understand the effects of that crime. She describes a child building with colored blocks, radiant in enjoyment and accomplishment and showing her parents her latest creation. In displaying her creation, the child is also giving herself to her parents, but their response is a lack of comprehension. “What did you build?” they ask the girl. The child is confused. Her parents don't understand why, and they simply ask again.

At this point, we feel sorry for the child. She has created something she thinks is beautiful and interesting. It doesn't have to be anything in particular, anything useful or even identifiable. It is simply the child's creation, and she is happy with it. Yet her parents don't understand, and in their question, they reject not only their child's creation but the child herself. We are left wishing that the parents would have exclaimed over the child's blocks with delight and praise.

This, apparently, is the type of crime the speaker's sister is lamenting, the rejection of beauty and the insistence on usefulness, the rejection of a person due to a lack of understanding, and the inability to recognize a gift when it is given.

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