Naming of Parts

by Henry Reed

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What effect does the last line in each stanza have in "Naming of Parts"?

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"Naming of Parts" was written during World War II and reflects the experience of a new recruit as he acclimates to life as a soldier.

To fully understand the significance of the final line of each stanza, it's important to examine the stanza structure in its entirety. Each stanza begins with a thesis of sorts: a statement that guides what that stanza will be about. Often, the stanza begins with the part of gun that the new soldier is learning about. The explanation from the instructor follows, but about halfway through the stanza, we hear the antithesis. This shows the contrast between the expectations of handling the weapons and ultimately being a talented soldier versus the reality:

This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got.

In this case, the reality of war is shown: soldiers often have to accomplish great feats with inappropriate provisions. The new soldier then reflects on this internally in a daydreaming sort of tone and moves into the final line of each stanza.

The last line of each stanza, then, synthesizes the key concept from each stanza from the point of view of the new soldier. The final line of the final stanza comes full circle to echo the first line of the poem, noting the cyclical nature of war and military training. Soldiers are trained to assemble and disassemble their weapons so many times that they can do it mindlessly, as is echoed in the soldier's voice. These fairly short lines at the end of each stanza serve as a reminder of the often silenced soldier's voice in the midst of war.

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