All My Pretty Ones Summary
by Anne Gray Harvey

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All My Pretty Ones Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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“All My Pretty Ones,” the title poem of Sexton’s second collection, expresses the grief and loss characterizing the entire volume. In this poem, Sexton uses formal, rhymed verse to reflect upon the shock and sorrow of losing both her parents within a few months. The title recalls the grief of William Shakespeare’s character Macduff, when he is told that Macbeth has had his wife and children killed. Sexton quotes the relevant passage as an epigraph to the poem.

Sexton’s poetry closely reflects her life and appears to represent her own voice. “All My Pretty Ones” follows her efforts to go through her father’s effects after his death, which occurred shortly after her mother’s. His business fortunes had suffered a reversal. Addressing her father directly, she tells of her attempts to “disencumber/ you from the residence you could not afford” and get rid of mementos that were meaningful to him but not to her: “boxes of pictures of people I do not know./ I touch their cardboard faces. They must go.”

The father’s life is woven into the dead reminders of him that are of another time period. The daughter finds news clippings in an old album and is taken back through history and through her father’s history. The clippings describe the destruction of the Hindenburg and the election of U.S. president Herbert Hoover. The father’s personal history is chronicled in photographs of formal dances, speedboat races, and horse shows, reflecting the wealth and luxury of the life he led.

As the poem progresses, however, it becomes clear that this is no ordinary elegy . The problems in the family become evident: The daughter calls the father “my...

(The entire section is 431 words.)