What is the theme of Karlo Shapiro's poem "Auto Wreck"?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Karlo Shapiro's poem titled "Auto Wreck" depicts the aftermath of a very gruesome car wreck. We know of the gruesomeness and fatality of the wreck due to the image of "the mangled [victims being] lifted" onto stretchers and the separate image of a cop who "douches ponds of blood/ Into the street and gutter," using a bucket, which is to say that the cop washes away a horrifying amount of blood from the scene of the accident for hygienic purposes. Shapiro juxtaposes the fatality of the wreck against the actually very blase reactions of the witnesses and cops to express his central theme that modern technology has numbed our minds to what we would have previously considered to be horrifying.

Shapiro's theme is most clearly expressed in lines around the middle of the poem used to describe what peoples' reactions would have been previously to something as gruesome and horrific as the fatal accident above. Based on his descriptions, our throats would have constricted with anxiety and sorrow, and our feet would have been frozen in place due to shock. He then juxtaposes previous reactions to the indifferent reactions we see in people today. In his juxtaposition, he describes us as ill people, such as mentally ill people, because, now, we smile and make joking warnings about what to do to avoid a fatal car wreck  simply because, due to our "common sense," we see the incident as now being nothing out of the ordinary, as we see in the following passage:

Our throats were tight as tourniquets,
Our feet were bound with splints, but now,
Like convalescents intimate and gauche,
We speak through sickly smiles and warn
With the stubborn saw of common sense,
The grim joke and the banal resolution.

Hence, Shapiro is essentially drawing a comparison between the debilitating shock we would have felt at witnessing a bloody, fatal wreck in earlier times to the indifference we now feel to establish the theme concerning the argument that modern technology is creating a very non-caring, indifferent humanity.

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