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In “The Cockroach” by Kevin Halligan, the narrator ends the poem by telling the reader that he sees himself in the insect. What an indictment of self-worth! The poem reflects the movements of a “giant” cockroach as it moves across the floor with the speaker watching him. The simplicity of the poem encases the parallel experiences of man and insect.
When the poem begins, the cockroach seems to move with deliberation. As the insect moves next to the wall, it suddenly seems to have an attack and begins to move erratically. It flops over as if to scratch its wings and circles the table leg until it moves onto a shelf to climb on and contemplate what to do next. In an odd analogy, the speaker compares the cockroach to a criminal who has committed a terrible crime and is receiving its punishment.
The narrator identifies with the cockroach. He sees himself in the slow movements of the insect as he goes across the floor changing to the twisting furious movements to the search for a place to find respite.
As if the victim of a mild attack
Of restlessness that worsened over time.
After a while, he climbed an open shelf
And stopped. He looked uncertain where to go.
Observing a cockroach typically gives a person a sense of revulsion. This man does not feel this disgust. Rather, the narrator is drawn to watch as the cockroach finds its way across the floor. It is not a humorous experience but one of connection to the insect. He even sees something about himself in the actions of the cockroach. Man and nature as represented by the cockroach have interconnectedness.
Yet, something is unusual about this insect. At first, it moved with purpose; then, its movements changed, seemingly out of control. In the end, the cockroach needed to find a place to find its footing because of its uncertainty.
From his surprisingly declaration, the man may hold himself responsible for some despicable crime that he has committed and needs to be released from his guilt by being punished. Apparently, in some former time, the narrator has betrayed his own morality and now judges himself to be no better than the cockroach who scarcely can move across the floor.
Is this the man’s life? Sometimes a person can begin his life with his footing obvious and certain. Life experiences change the person’s path, and he makes foolish mistakes that spur him to not only wrong steps but immoral actions.
Two parts of nature—the man and the insect looking for purpose in their lives. Nothing is certain for their futures.
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