The role of life and death are important to consider when developing themes for these particular readings. The works of Robert Browning and Edgar Allan Poe show how the portrayal of death, specifically murder, can represent a betrayal in faith and trust. The poems by Barbara Hamby and Tony Hoagland focus on American life, providing readers with two different perspectives.
Browning’s “My Last Duchess” depicts the death of a duke’s first wife while Poe’s shows how a man seeks revenge on a friend by murdering him in his wine cellar. Both of these works reflect the ideas that although relationships in general represent a sense of trust and value, humans tend to betray it. The duke’s colors are revealed in the poem as he describes the inappropriate and disruptive behavior of his late wife, which is not something a husband usually reminisces about after the death of his spouse. Marriage symbolizes a commitment of love, trust, and honesty, and the murder and death of the duchess is a contradiction of all that is marriage. Poe’s short story encompasses betrayal as well but the crime of murder is committed towards a friend. These unique interpretations of murder and trust tie a strong connection to the short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, where the downfall of the characters are directly affected by the trust and honesty with the grandmother.
It is difficult to truly evaluate and think about American life and culture without being an outsider looking in. Hamby’s “Ode to American English” shows how the speaker appreciates American culture. The definition of an ode has often been characterized by a topic such as the meaning of life. The author looks upon the life of America, realizing she misses and even adores the strange, far-from-elegant vocabulary. On the other hand, Hoagland criticizes American society and pulls out every rare quality of life to show how ridiculous it may look and seem from an outsider.
The four works pair off on a simple level but the themes of life and death complement each other.