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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 425

“Miniver Cheevy,” which first appeared in Scribner’s Magazine and later in The Town Down the River, presents a character whose name suits him. His name sounds as if it belongs to the medieval past that he wishes still existed. His name also satirically hints at his minimal achievements in life. Miniver maintains that he was born too late, that he should have lived many centuries ago. He childishly romanticizes the Greeks’ siege of Troy, Alexander the Great’s attack on Thebes, and King Arthur’s combat near Camelot, as if such battles were fun. Such mistaken fantasies of past warfare inform his rejection of the khaki military uniform of his own time as too deficient in grandeur. When Miniver speaks of the gracefulness of medieval armor, the outlandishness of his claim is evident because medieval body armor was not graceful.

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Besides modern warfare, Miniver finds fault with contemporary politics, which he says fails in comparison to the Renaissance rule of the passionate Medicis in Florence, Italy. Believing he should have been born rich, Miniver will not work and looks down on people who succeed financially. The more readers hear about Miniver, the angrier he seems to become until he curses the change of seasons. This moment, like his notion of graceful body armor, undercuts Miniver’s credibility. It is senseless to rail at something so natural and inevitable as the change of the seasons or the passage of time.

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Latest answer posted November 30, 2008, 1:11 am (UTC)

1 educator answer

When in the last stanza Miniver coughs and “call[s] it fate,” for him the word “it” refers to his ill-timed life. However, the immediate referent of that word is “cough,” and by joining of two meanings around “it,” the narrator suggests that Miniver’s life is finally no more significant than a mere cough. Notable, too, are the rhymed stanza lines ending in two syllables. The second “weak” syllable of each of these rhymes is not stressed, a limp-ending effect that conveys a sense of Miniver’s lack of personal courage.

The satiric tone of this poem makes clear that the narrator disapproves of Miniver’s outlandish excuses, his self-serving thoughts, and his drinking to drown his discontents. However, Miniver’s interior self is unavailable to readers, leaving an unanswered question: Is he only a dreamer whose experience of disappointments has led him to drink, or is he merely a drunk who speaks of disappointments only to justify himself? Since readers are unable to answer these questions for sure, their moral judgment of Miniver is hampered by what they do not know about him.

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