Analysis of Lucille Clifton’s “Miss Rosie”
Everyone goes through life in phases. We all begin as infants, grow through adolescence, and continue through our adulthood. There comes a time in everyone’s life when they become old and frail. It is at this time in our lives that we become vulnerable to the people and things around us. In “Miss Rosie” by Lucille Clifton, the speaker encounters and insults a homeless woman; however as the poem progresses, she stands up for respect for her because of her experiences.
In “Miss Rosie” the speaker appears to be a passer-by observing Miss Rosie. She is a younger woman, and has heard Miss Rosie’s reputation as, “the best looking gal in Georgia used to be called Georgia Rose.” The poem is about the narrator looking at Miss Rosie in the present, and contrasting what she used to be. The poem does end on a higher note though when the narrator says, “I stand up through your destruction I stand up.”
The poem opens up with the narrator insulting Miss Rosie right off the bat. She is compared to “garbage sitting surrounded by the smell.” This tone has the ability to anger the ready right away. The poem continues with insults like “too old potato peels,” and “waiting for your mind like next week’s grocery.” The narrator continues to talk about Miss Rosie in the present and all her downfalls. “You wet brown bag of a woman who used to be the best looking gal in Georgia,” is the harshest of all the insults, but also reveals information on her past. The last part of the line reveals that she used to be a beautiful woman, called the “Georgia Rose.” The poem ends with a positive spin by saying “I stand up through your destruction I stand up.” The narrator is saying that no matter how bad she gets, she will still stand up with respect for Miss Rosie, because of her life experiences.
The Images in the poem are all focused around trash you might find in the gutter of a street. This is symbolic of the poem. Clifton uses the images of “garbage” and “potato peels” to describe Miss Rosie. This is symbolic in the way that the reader of the poem will get the feeling that Miss Rosie is like trash that the narrator is looking down onto.
The tone Clifton expresses in “Miss Rosie” is for the most part, negative, and mean. The reader of the poem will notice that after their first time reading it. All of the insults contribute to the negative connotation and tone of the poem. The tone is changed at the very end though. Clifton uses the last lines of the poem to change the entire tone of the story. The last line is intended to show the
lesson of honoring your elders. The narrator is honoring her elder, Miss Rosie, for all her life accomplishments, no matter how bad her life is in the present.
The tone and imaging is also supported by the diction. By using words like “garbage” and “wet brown bag,” the reader is given a negative emotion. The word choice is very important to making a poem effective. By using the specific words she did, the poem was given a negative connotation.
In “Miss Rosie,” Lucille Clifton wrote an elegant poem that starts out showing all of the negative traits of an aged woman, and, at the very end, lifts the spirits of the reader by having the narrator show pride in Miss Rosie. It is a poem about showing respect for elders, no matter their present condition.
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