Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Merrill develops the Marxist theme of the conflict between laboring class and owners throughout “Domino.” Merrill introduces the privileged consumer/plantation owner in the poem’s first two lines: “Delicious, white, refined/ Is all that I was raised to be.” These members of the elite are rational (with “crystal rudiments of mind”) and detached (never “wholly melting,” “however stirred”).

The second stanza presents the mass of black sugarcane workers who support the few white owners (like the black background on the domino pieces). Doña Pilar, who visits the exploited laborers living in “infested” huts, represents the owner class (“Doña” comes from the same Latin source as domino—dominus, meaning “lord or master”) and brings with her all of the meanings associated with “Pilar” (flagellation for the workers, public penance for herself, and additional plundering). In the final sestet, “History’s health freak,” presumably Marx, after “appraising” the “mess” of class exploitation, recommends that “such as we be given up” or overthrown. The owner/consumer concludes that the world will miss “those sparkling dregs.” This final oxymoron makes Merrill’s central point: To a Marxist, what sparkles most with accumulated products and refinement is “the most undesirable part” of the economic system.

Another reading of “Domino” reveals Merrill’s treatment of the theme of the church’s sacraments of the Eucharist and penance. The Eucharist...

(The entire section is 627 words.)