Identify the literary devices used in "Death Came to See Me in Hot Pink Pants." Comment on their effectiveness and how they relate to the theme.

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gpane | College Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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The main literary device used in this poem is that of personification. Death is personified as a ‘black saga boy’ in eye-catching attire: pink hot pants with matching waistcoat and pink sequins, like a disco dancer or something in that line, flashy  and extravagant, grinning and winking at the speaker. This is very unlike traditional representations of death as some kind of grim spectre, spooky apparition or stern judgemental figure. The image of death presented in this poem is strikingly different and therefore makes for a memorable image.

Death, then,  appears in an unusual garb in this poem, laughing and is even described as ‘beautiful’. However, behind the cheerful exterior he is also frightening and inexorable as he lunges for the speaker’s throat, while the speaker tries to fight him off. This kind of personification is maybe used to show that death can come in some kind of disguise, and may not be recognized for what it really is at first. Death’s gaiety here masks a sinister purpose. The poem seems to be making the point that no matter what guise death may appear in, the result is always the same. No-one can ultimately escape death’s reach. ‘He filled my frame of vision/with a broad white smile.’ This underlines the sense that death, when it comes, is utterly all-encompassing and irresistible; the speaker literally cannot look away.

An alternative reading is that death actually functions as a kind of liberator in this poem. It is striking that the speaker is described as being in a ‘small’ ‘cage’. This image gives the sense that the speaker is essentially restricted until death comes, ‘forcing’ his way in. It is also significant that the poem ends with a picture of the speaker ‘breathless’ at the thought of ‘how beautiful was death’. It almost seems that the speaker is overwhelmed with admiration for death at the close of the poem; there is little trace of negativity here. Death appears as a huge, all-engulfing presence. Most of all, and most paradoxically, Death, appears alive: a huge, colourful figure full of energy; a dancer. In contrast, the speaker’s life appears small, constricted; in a word, lifeless. We might say, then, that the poem’s use of imagery makes for rather an interesting twist on conventional representations of life and death.

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