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"A Tale of Starvation" by Amy Lowell has elements of the literal effects of starvation and the seeming starvation of the mind and spirit. The title then is significant because it draws readers in and forces them to consider that the physical effects are outweighed by the psychological effects which the man has ignored -- thus figuratively starving not only himself eventually but his soul. Therefore, the themes of alienation and betrayal, loss and loneliness are hinted at in the title as this "tale" is an imaginative recounting of how starvation is far more than a lack of food.
The subject of the poem is the wretched man himself who "cursed eternally," and goes out of his way to be unpleasant. He has created his own misery because he was betrayed and feels that there is no point in looking forward to the future because it "lied." Therefore, he has no appreciation for anything and considers that every single object is nothing more than "a hurt to his gaze" until he uncovers the vase. He is so stunned by its beauty that he goes out of his way to enhance its magnificence, even washing his white-washed windows to let the light in. The man's whole outlook improves and his quality of life improves with it. It is the potential in the vase which has brought about this transformation in him. The vase cannot be appreciated in his dark house and so he lets the light in and at the same time, he opens his heart and "fed his life."
The school teacher's comments foreshadow the inevitable but after a brief despondent moment, the man is once again uplifted by thoughts of his precious possession. Unfortunately, the comments of the school teacher are just the beginnings of doubt as it starts to "eat away" at his soul once again and his joy is short-lived. The reader understands by the end of the poem that the man has never grieved for the loss he felt when he was deceived and betrayed, but rather cut himself off to avoid further hurt. Opening himself up after he finds the vase also makes him vulnerable and susceptible to uncertainty. The man feels that he will never find anything else valuable in his life. He is effectively already starved the moment the vase shatters, so not eating is the natural conclusion for him.
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