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Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The poem’s title and opening questions leave little doubt about the issues central to the work. Corso’s approach, though, of considering a social institution in light of competing stereotypes is provocative. The poem implicitly argues that marriage can be more effectively understood through cultural images of it than through abstract considerations of love: “O but what about love! I forget love.”

Corso deliberately focuses on rituals and the clichés that surround them, such as meeting the parents (“we’re losing a daughter/ but we’re gaining a son”), the wedding itself (“And the priest! he looking at me as if I masturbated/ asking me Do you take this woman for your lawful wedded wife?”), and the honeymoon (“all those corny men slapping me on the back/ She’s all yours, boy! Ha-ha-ha!”). One may be tempted to dismiss these rituals and cultural clichés as formalities that are finally unimportant to the real issue of two individuals forming a lifelong bond. In “Marriage,” however, Corso insists that the clichés reveal much about this culture. The form of the poem argues that clichés and stereotypes shape the actual life choices available to people.

One cannot help but notice how minor a role the wife plays in these imagined scenarios. Indeed, the poem has an egotistical and male bias that is not uncommon in Beat literature and American literature as a whole. The tendency in classic American literature for the male hero to flee from women and marital domesticity into the heroic wilderness runs from Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (1851) to Kerouac’s On the Road (1957). While “Marriage” is hardly a quest romance as those novels are, it participates in the male rejection of home and marriage as imprisoning. Corso even uses the phrase “pleasant prison dream” to dismiss his final marriage fantasy. The surprising...

(The entire section is 473 words.)