What is the difference between dramatic situation and theme in "The World Is Too Much with Us" by William Wordsworth.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Although the theme and dramatic situation in "The World is Too Much With Us"  are close to one another, there is some significant divergence between the two.  Initially, when looking at the dramatic situation in the poem, the definition of dramatic situation confronts:  "A dramatic situation is a situation, in a narrative or dramatic work, in which people (or "people") are involved in conflicts that solicit the audience's empathetic involvement in their predicament." (http://www.k-state.edu/english/baker/english320/cc-dramatic_situation.htm).  Using this understanding, the dramatic situation in the poem is the confrontation between our relationship to materialism and the beauty of the natural world.  The poem embodies this conflict at several points in the poem outside of the opening line.  Notice in lines 2-4, there is the conflict of what we do as humans as having little to do with the natural state of beauty.  In line 8, the poet says highlights the situation by suggesting the very nature of conflict, in his noting that "we are out of tune."  These lines indicate that the dramatic situation is the disjointed relationship between human beings' desire for materialism and a lacking appreciation of nature.

The theme of the poem is rooted in this, but is different. A "theme" is defined as " is the general idea or insight about life that a writer wishes to express" (http://www.tnellen.com/cybereng/lit_terms/theme.html).  The theme of the Wordsworth poem is that human beings need to pay more attention in revering the beauty of the natural world.  We can see this in the lines that indicate how artistically and poetically profound the natural world is.  The last four lines of the poem indicate this idea, almost to the point where the speaker suggests that he would take this natural beauty over anything else in the world.  In this understanding, the theme resolves the dramatic situation presented.

 

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Dramatic situation involves such elements as the events in a poem, the reason for these events, and the relationship of the speaker to his audience.  This last element is paramount to Wordsworth's "The World Is Too Much With Us," for he writes in a style unlike that of his peers:  Wordsworth employs the English of the average Englishman, a laborer who was dissatisfied with the wealthy landowners' living a luxurious life at the expense of the working man beneath them.  And, as a Romantic poet, Wordsworth also appeals to the common people in their love of Nature.

Now, this relationship to the average Englishman does relate to the theme, or moral truth, of Wordsworth's poem, as well. since there were many "grass roots 19th century English" who were tied to the Romantic Movement.  Concerned with the growing materialism of people, in his sonnet Wordsworth tells people,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our pwers/Little we see in Nature that is ours 

contending that people were better off when they were pagans:

Great God! I'd rather be/A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;/So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,/Have glimpses that wuld make me less forlorn

With the insensitivity of 19th century man to the beauty and tranquility of Nature, Wordsworth feels that man may lose his soul in his desire for material acquistion--"We have given our hearts away"--something that even the pagans did not do.

Wordsworth's theme of the need to abandon materialism and embrace the beauty and enjoyment of Nature is one that is, indeed, timely in this 21st century as many are certainly "out of tune."

 

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