What theme does Lucille Clifton present in her poem "Miss Rosie?"

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myl1021 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the poem “Miss Rosie” by Lucille Clifton there are a few themes which can be identified. We see the emergent theme of “honoring the elderly”, as well as the theme of “valuing human worth.”

In order to understand how these themes work within the poem, we must first understand what theme is. Theme is the idea big idea or ideas that can be extracted from the characters, actions and setting that make up a story. It can be the moral, the teaching or the” big picture” about people, life and how we behave. The theme should be pulled from the details provided by the author and presented as a generalization about life.

In the case of this poem we are presented with an elderly lady who has obviously fallen onto rough times. We are informed of Miss Rosie surrounded by trash and through the voice of the speaker we believe that Miss Rosie is one with her surroundings. The speaker describes a discouraging state of a person. Apparently Miss Rosie is homeless and without full mental capacity. We believe that there is no hope until we reach the final lines of the poem. The speaker then tells of Miss Rosie’s past and the respect that was once held for her and is still held for her despite her deteriorating conditions. The speaker ends with a strong statement that shows respect and gives value to Miss Rosie as a human being.

Vikash Lata eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The time and circumstance are volatile in nature. The change of fortune and the old age shouldn't deprive one of his or her deserved regard and honor. Miss Rosie or Georgia Rose, as she was called when she was young, must have been popular and admired in the prime of her life. But, in her old age, she’s turned into a wretched and neglected old woman.

The three-worded clause “I stand up,” repeated twice, encapsulates the main theme of the poem. It’s about paying respect and homage to a lady who has shrunk into an insignificant and ugly-looking old woman.

By repeating “I stand up,” the poet honors an old woman who’s a representative of every old person who once really mattered, and so was respected and cared for in his or her best years.

With age, Miss Rosie has grown infirm and physically unattractive. She is of no worth to the society and the people around her. To them, she’s just a "wet brown bag,” and one who’s “wrapped up like garbage.”

In her unique manner, the poet Lucille Clifton condemns the neglect of old people, who ought to be looked after and cared for, by standing up for them “through” their "destruction."

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In an ironic twist, the speaker in the poem "miss rosie" by Lucille Clifton gains determination to "stand up"  from seeing the "destruction" of miss rosie. Miss Rosie is recognized by the speaker as a worthy human being who has lived and experienced life.  Contrary to the images of trash--"wrapped up like garbage" and "you wet brown bag of a woman"--there is something to respect in miss rosie:  She has struggled through the misfortunes of life and endured.  And, while she is now not what she once was, miss rosie, as an example, provides the speaker determination to endure as well.  "I stand up," the speaker declares in the last line, implying that this speaker will also persevere in life as a human should, even if he/she should be cast off later on, as well.

"Regret is rarely expressed in Clifton's poetry," so says enotes, and "miss rosie" typlifies this characteristic of the poet.  Instead, Clifton writes of the spiritual meaning and value of the ordinary human experience.  For this, the speaker "stands up."

pjones7245 | Student

It's easy to confuse the subject of a poem with its theme. The subject of this poem, Miss Rosie, has been cast off to die alone. But what larger idea is Lucille Clifton getting at by showing us how the one-time 'Georgia Rose' ends her days? That leads us to the theme.

A quick first step in finding a poem's theme is to look for any road flags. These are repeated elements that occur throughout some poems. The cry of 'Nevermore' is repeated by Edgar Allen Poe's raven, for example. And that three syllable utterance leads to an understanding of his poem's theme.

The phrase 'I shall stand' is repeated twice in the last three lines of Clifton's poem. Throughout the body of the poem the speaker is watching 'Miss Rosie.' What s/he sees is an impoverished old woman eking out her last days. She is 'wrapped up like garbage' and not at the peak of her mental capabilities. Instead she is 'waiting for her mind like last week's grocery.' Her dwelling place smells. She wears an old man's shoes with the little toe cut out. Hers is probably inflamed by too many cold, wet nights without good socks.

All in all she is a 'wet brown bag of a woman.' That is all many people see when they look at a woman like 'Miss Rosie.'

But the speaker of the poem sees more. Instead of turning away or pitying 'Miss Rosie,' s/he stands up, a universal symbol of respect. We learn that 'Miss Rosie' was once known as the 'Georgia Rose,' the best looking girl in Georgia. How far she has fallen. But she perseveres without the cushions of youthful beauty or money. The speaker acknowledges that even without these attributes the old woman is a survivor of intrinsic worth. And that realization strengthens his/her own endurance.