What would be a good introduction to an essay on "My Papa's Waltz," with a thesis statement; Theodore Roethke uses tone, connotation, and imagery to convey the idea that parent-child relationships are often complex and involve both happy and painful feelings?

An introduction for this thesis might highlight how societal influences shape an ever-shifting and complex understanding of the parent-child relationship. Thesis statements need to provide a defensible position that the writer can prove throughout the course of their paper.

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That's a great thesis and one that covers the complexities of images and language found in this poem. When I teach this poem, students typically find it to be a poem reflective of alcoholism and child abuse. I would argue that this is because they view the poem with a twenty-first century lens. And there are certainly images that would lead to those connotations, but the poem's language and imagery doesn't fully support that interpretation.

Therefore, I think examining the historical context is worthwhile in this introduction. Roethke was born in 1908; the poem was written in the late 1940s. Families living during this period of American history were shaped by different influences than those typical in twenty-first century America. A father's hands during this era would have been battered and dirty because of hard, manual labor. The fact that he's had whiskey at bedtime would not have been all that unusual. It's also important to note the use of the tender "Papa," which seems to support a warm relationship between father and son.

Bringing in the historical context allows you to show how the culture of a society shapes the interpretation and also allows you to bring out these contrasting images of the parent-child relationship. Their "waltzing was not easy," yet the son clings to his father to preserve that intimacy. The verbs sometimes sound harsh—battered, scraped, beat—yet these images are blended into a beautiful waltz.

The dynamics of a parent-child relationship are both painful and beautiful, and they are always evolving to reflect a constantly changing society.

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