The Emperor of Ice-Cream by Wallace Stevens

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Characters

Wallace Stevens's very brief poem (only two stanzas) "The Emperor of Ice Cream" still has a number of characters, two main ones and many minor ones. But none are ever given proper names, and the minor ones are simply groups of people.

The Emperor of Ice Cream, also called the roller of big cigars, is the one who enjoys all of life and takes every pleasure from it he can. He is described as muscular, proud, and strong; it is almost implied, by the end of each stanza, that he is to be imitated.

Another character is the unnamed woman who has just died and whose funeral it is. The woman lived a life of extreme poverty (evident from her dresser made of cheap wood that was missing three knobs). At her funeral, people bring flowers that are wrapped in old newspaper. Yet she made her life as colorful as she could, embroidering her plain sheets with birds or fish. She is cold from death, and her feet stick out from beneath the embroidered sheets she made that became her funeral shroud. A lamp (perhaps only the sun) shines upon her at the funeral.

It is possible that the woman is Cuban and her funeral is in Cuba, which the author Stevens visited regularly. In Latin American countries, it was once common that the bodies of the dead would be viewed during wakes on their dining room table, either in a shroud or in a wood or glass coffin. The woman, being very poor, could not afford a coffin—only the sheets she slept in.

There are also unnamed groups of boys who bring the flowers wrapped in old newspapers.

Additionally, there are unnamed groups of young girls or women, called wenches, who dress colorfully not only at the funeral but at every occasion—and for all of life. It is implied these women were the deceased woman's close companions, friends or family.