Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The titles of her poems, chapbooks, and books indicate the universality of Dove’s work; however, in Thomas and Beulah, she is decidedly African American. As early as her first book, Dove’s thrifty use of language and the narrative technique reveals her cultural universality. She makes use of a complex and multitextured imagery to relate her themes in this Pulitzer Prize-winning collection. The primary theme of Thomas and Beulah is the durability of their love as it is intertwined with history and pride in ancestry. The poem inspires an appreciation of the depth of the love shared by Thomas and Beulah and its influence on their children and grandchildren, who are thereafter enmeshed in the web of their parents’ and grandparents’ lives and histories. Because Thomas and Beulah have become “one flesh and one spirit,” they are able to impart, carefully and lovingly, this wholeness to their children. As a result, their progeny is capable of coping with the pain, guilt, despair, bereavement, and loss of illusion seen in “The Event” and “The Stroke” just as Thomas and Beulah have done.

In “Under the Viaduct,” permanence is further depicted as the couple live through the hard years of the Depression and Thomas is looking for work. Moreover, Thomas and Beulah’s marriage remains intact in spite of personal disappointments. When Thomas’s first daughter is born, he feels shame and guilt because he wanted a son. He muses on what he would have said to a son. Again in “Under the Viaduct,” Thomas decides to stay in spite of his disappointments; he eventually even joins the gospel choir. In “Variation on Gaining a Son,” when his first daughter marries, he accepts a replacement for his dream of having a son.

Beulah also has dreams that she gives up for the permanence of marriage. “Magic” depicts her childhood dream of going to Paris. Later, after she marries Thomas and becomes a mother, her...

(The entire section is 798 words.)