Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Like the scriptural narrative upon which it draws, “Lot’s Wife” offers much opportunity for speculation. The fate of Lot’s wife is known, but neither her reasons for looking back nor her name are given in the Bible. Both her singular doom and the paucity of other information have prompted many reactions, from simple pity to elaborate speculation about her reasons for turning. Commentators have alleged motives ranging from desire for the corrupt pleasures of the doomed cities to rebellion against authority, although Genesis makes no such statement.

Szymborska’s character discusses most of the less lurid motives traditionally ascribed to Lot’s wife, including materialism (her desire for the silver bowl), resentment of her husband’s orders, regret for the doom of Sodom, and fear. However, she confesses to no truly evil motive. If she longs for her bowl, she seems more to miss a prized keepsake than to display greed. In her shame at “stealing away” from Sodom, she displays a possibly misplaced devotion, but she does not seem the sensualist imagined by some readers of the Bible. Indeed, many of the reasons she suggests imply no fault of her own, but only misfortune. She sounds neither especially noble nor ignoble if she is attempting to be truthful, although her trustworthiness itself is questionable.

The colloquial language reinforces the impression of Lot’s wife as an everyday person, probably in late middle age (she complains...

(The entire section is 462 words.)