Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 423
Delmore Schwartz's poem "The Heavy Bear Who Goes with Me" contains four characters—two major and two minor.
1. The speaker. The speaker, or narrator, of this poem is one of two main characters. The speaker uses a vivid spectrum of imagery to illustrate conflicting feelings within himself. He portrays those negative or confusing qualities he sees in himself as a "hungry beating brutish" bear. We can surmise that the speaker wishes to be steady, brave, and sincere; those qualities stand in stark contrast to the speaker's pejorative depiction of the bear.
2. The bear. The second main character of this poem is the bear, who is described in myriad ways and in myriad situations throughout the poem. The bear represents complex characteristics of the speaker of the poem. These characteristics are so complex, so primal and unfathomable, that they require their own character: the form of a bear. When the bear "boxes his brother in the hate-ridden city," we know that the speaker of the poem runs into conflict with his fellow man. When the bear "Dressed in his dress-suit, bulging his pants, / Trembles to think that his quivering meat / Must finally wince to nothing at all," we know the speaker fears death. Just as the bear "perplexes and affronts with his own darkness," so too does the speaker create his own biggest obstacles. While the bear and the speaker are in fact the same person, in the poem, the speaker creates the bear so as to observe and describe those traits about himself which he least understands.
3. "His brother." Though brief, there is an allusion to the bear's brother, which we can interpret as the speaker's fellow man. The speaker observes his own antagonism or defensiveness with others just as the bear fights with his kin in the context of a "hate-ridden" place.
4. "The very dear." We are introduced to a "dear," ostensibly an object of affection for the speaker. While he wants to make himself clear to her, the bear (his own negative qualities) "touches her grossly." The bear mars the tender and sincere moments between the speaker and his love interest. But of course, the bear is the speaker, and the speaker is the bear.
As a final note, one could make the argument that because the bear is a projection of the speaker, they are inseparable and only count as one entity. Yet because the speaker strives to make the bear so distinct from himself, in the poem they feel separate. They appear to be two separate—though linked—characters.
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