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The speaker in this brilliant poem is clearly a very shy young woman who has just returned from her first semester at college to her home. As she sits with her grandmother, engaging in the homely task of snapping beans together, her grandmother asks her the question of how college is going. This question conjures up a number of possible responses, and these various responses reveal the confusion and homesickness of the speaker. Note, for example, the following quote from the poem:
I wanted to tell her how my stomach burned
acidic holes at the thought of speaking in class,
speaking in an accent, speaking out of turn,
how I was tearing, splitting myself apart
with the slow-simmering guilt of being happy
despite it all.
Clearly, the speaker, from the South, feels incredibly out of place, and only has to open her mouth to be reminded of her origins and how she is different from all of her fellow students. This is causing massive stress in terms of her identity, but even bigger stress and confusion is caused by the fact that in spite of her feelings of being different, she is actually enjoying college. The major confusion and the internal conflict of the speaker are thus explored through the variety of responses that run through the speaker's head before she answers her grandmother.
The speaker, or persona, of Lisa Parker's "Snapping Beans" is a college-aged girl from the rural American South. She comes from a traditional background, for her Grandma hums religious songs and she's anxious about telling her grandma about her scientific education, nontraditional poetry, and anti-normative classmates. She's also anxious about speaking in class, for she worries that her distinct Southern accent will ostracize her from her classmates. The speaker's personal and conversational tone suggests that she holds an intimate relationship with her grandmother.
Why then, at the poem's conclusion, does she not reveal these anxieties to her grandmother? She must long to preserve her traditional Southern identity, for she does not want to upset her grandmother by revealing that she has drifted from this identity in college. In fact, her sense of her grandma's gaze suggests that she feels pressured by her grandma to uphold her original identity: "I could feel / the soft gray of her stare / against the side of my face" (12-14). The poem's speaker is thereby best characterized as conflicted, for she is trying to reconcile her Southern identity with the Northern way of life that she adopts while away at college.
For additional information, please consult the enotes guide for analyzing poetry!
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