What differentiates the blue-eyed boy from Mister Death in e. e. cummings' "Buffalo Bill 's"?

Quick answer:

The difference between the blue-eyed boy and Mister Death in "Buffalo Bill 's" lies in their power. While Buffalo Bill, the blue-eyed boy of the poem, had to ultimately follow the laws of humanity and death just as any other common man, Death itself is unexpected and is not forced to follow any particular rules. While the world has continued on without Buffalo Bill, the force and power of Death remains and is even directly addressed in this poem.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Buffalo Bill was a frontiersman who lived from 1846–1917. At the height of his fame, he was known as being a great buffalo hunter and an Indian fighter. He later toured both the United States an Europe, celebrated as an embodiment of the adventurous and resilient American spirit.

It is important to note that the title of this poem is actually "Buffalo Bill 's" with an intentional space between the name and the possessive ending. This gap allows us to process the gap in time between the world in which Buffalo Bill lived and the world which has evolved since that time. The speaker does not look favorably on the fame of Buffalo Bill, seeing him as "defunct"—or now irrelevant.

Buffalo Bill himself is the "blue-eyed boy" of the final lines. The last two lines stress the overall insignificance of Buffalo Bill's accomplishments. He proved himself just as mortal and ordinary as any other man in the end, falling to death because of persistent illness. For such an iconic representation of American culture at this time, his death seems rather common.

By contrast, "Mister Death," which is capitalized and given a title, demonstrating respect, has proven ultimately victorious. Death has shown no particular concern for Buffalo Bill's fame or iconic status, arriving to claim the man who once fascinated crowds and who was synonymous with the American spirit. Death has proven to be the great equalizer, making Buffalo Bill as ordinary in his death as any other common man. The world has moved on without the presence of Buffalo Bill, yet Mister Death has persisted, even listening in on this poem as he is directly addressed in the final lines. While even the famous, like Buffalo Bill, must eventually die, Death itself is not forced to obey any particular laws and can come for anyone at any time.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial