Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

by Wallace Stevens

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Student Question

What literary technique in "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" allows any audience to identify with the narrator?

Quick answer:

This literary technique in "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" is called multiperspectivity. Here, the absence of personal information and the plurality of viewpoints transcend and collapse typical gender boundaries. The breakdown lets all kinds of readers identify with the narrator. As Stevens himself says, "A man and a woman / Are one. / A man and a woman and a blackbird / Are one."

Expert Answers

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This is a fascinating question. It seems apt that you'd ask it in relation to Wallace Stevens's poem "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird."

Stevens is one of America’s most well-known poets. Unlike poets like Anne Sexton, Allen Ginsberg, or Charles Bukowski, Stevens's poems don't seem too personal. It's hard to detect much personality in his poems. With Stevens, it's like you say: there's "no personal information disclosed." It's like he's not human. It's like he's a snowman (incidentally, Stevens wrote a poem called "The Snow Man").

But we're here to talk about "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" and the all-inclusive literary technique that can be attributed to the poem.

One technique that jumps out is "multiperspectivity." This, as the name suggests, is when a writer includes not one but several perspectives. A work featuring multiperspectivity can allow an audience, regardless of their gender identity, to identify with the narrator since the narrator is not one specific gender.

It's almost if Stevens answers your question for you in the poem. Look at part 4:

A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

Maybe Stevens's multiperspectivity comes from the belief that one person can contain multiple genders and even creatures. One body—one mind—can be composed of "a man and a woman and a blackbird."

Another technique that could make it so that possibly anyone could identify with the narrator is "defamiliarization." Defamiliarization involves talking about a supposedly normal thing—like a blackbird—in a way that makes it strange, unfamiliar, or new. This fresh perspective could rub off on the reader. Instead of seeing ourselves through our normal identity, we come to identify with the narrator in a new, unfamiliar, and strange way.

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