A Loving Struggle in Theodore Roethke's "My Papa's Waltz"
After an initial reading of Roethke's "My Papa's Waltz, one may assume that this is a story of a terrified young boy unable to defend himself against his father's physical abuse, while another reader may view this scene as a depiction of a playful game between father and son. While the poem may be understood by accepting either of these explanations in their simplest form, Roethke most likely intended to tell a more complicated tale. "My Papa's Waltz" signifies a working class man's struggle to communicate with his child.
The opening lines, "The whiskey on your breath/ Could make a small boy dizzy" (1-2), illustrate Roethke's attempt to convey the differences between father and son. While it is unclear as to whether or not his father is drunk, the alcohol on his breath is enough for the young boy to take notice.
The father may very well have had only had one drink and is therefore sober, but that one drink for the boy would surely lead to intoxication. These first two lines demonstrate the differences between a grown man and a child. The father may not notice how what seems to be a small amount of alcohol to him would have an enormous effect on the child. The poem begins in this manner to introduce the reader to the idea that accepted behavior for the father is not yet completely understood in the child's mind.
The boy's father probably considers this interaction with his son a loving game. He sees the boy as a one-dimensional child who has a great time participating in such emotional bonding. This is most likely one of the reasons Roethke changed the character from a girl to a boy. By this simple change in character,