Walter de la Mare

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How is Susan characterized in Walter de la Mare's poem "Old Susan"?

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In the poem "Old Susan" by Walter de la Mare, Susan is characterized as being hardworking, educated, and imaginative. After working hard all day in the service of others, she chooses to spend her evenings reading. This shows significant emotional and spiritual depth.

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The narrator of the poem "Old Susan" by Walter de la Mare is a child who is supposed to be in bed but is instead watching Old Susan read. From the text it is not clear what Old Susan's relationship is to the narrator. She could be a grandmother, an aunt, a family friend, or mother, although it is rare for children to call their mothers by their first name. Whoever Susan is, it seems that the narrator knows her intimately, because he is writing about a habit that Susan has of reading a book when her work is finished for the day.

Among the aspects of Susan's character that we can discern from the poem, we understand that she is hardworking. By the time she has finished her work and can sit down with her book, it is nighttime, and the child or children are (or should be) in bed. We also understand that Susan is educated and imaginative. She could have done other things at the end of the day, but instead she spends her time reading. We can tell that she becomes absorbed in the story she is reading, because she sometimes comments on it out loud.

A clue in the poem that helps us realize the depth of Susan's personality is in the last line. The narrator writes that her reading is "rooted in Romance." It is important to understand that Romanticism in literature means far more than the lightweight romantic novels we see nowadays for sale. The Romantic movement in literature focused on individual experience, nature, the common man, spirituality, and the supernatural. For instance, Edgar Allan Poe's works are considered to be part of the Romantic movement, as is the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. In fact, Walter de la Mare added to this tradition, as he was well known for his ghost stories. We see, then, by this allusion that this old woman, who worked hard all day, had hidden intellectual and emotional depths.

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