What is the theme of "Equipment" by Edgar A. Guest?
As with many of Guest's verses, this is little more than a Horatio Alger story in stanzas. The poem's central conceit is that each and every one of us is born with the same "equipment," the same basic capacity to make something of our lives:
You were born with all that the great have had
This will undoubtedly come as something of a surprise to those without wealth, privilege, and the right social connections, not to mention those with physical or mental disabilities. Aside from being an almost unbelievably glib platitude, this fatherly advice is delivered in a relentlessly patronizing tone, one wholly unredeemed by the slightest hint of self-awareness. Guest is treating us the same way as he treats his "lad," as errant children in need of earnest moral instruction.
A further implication of Guest's rugged individualism is that if we fail, then we only have ourselves to blame:
You are the handicap you must face,
You are the one who must choose your place,
You must say where you want to go,
How much you will study the truth to know.
The speaker says God has graciously bestowed upon us the equipment requisite for our success; it's up to us to decide how to use it. Guest pulled himself up by his own bootstraps, and if he can do it, by God, so can you.
Whatever the manifest technical deficiencies of "Equipment," however condescending its overall message and tone, there can be little doubt as to its sincerity. Edgar A. Guest was himself endowed by the Almighty with the equipment necessary to be one of the great American poets. And he used that equipment to the very best of his ability, but no further.
The theme of this poem is that people are responsible for their own fate. The poet is saying that all people have the "equipment" to succeed. God has given them everything that they need, now it is up to them to determine whether they are going to use that equipment well or badly.
This sentiment reflects Guest's own background and his beliefs. Guest himself was forced to do all sorts of jobs as a young boy because his family had been hurt financially by various events. He then had to leave school before finishing high school because his father died. These experiences gave him the attitude that people can improve themselves if they will only work hard enough.
"Equipment" is typical of Guest's sentiments. It has a very self-reliant, democratic theme that is very much in line with what most Americans believe.