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The Colonel

The Colonel

by Carolyn Forché

Ears

Symbol Analysis

There is no forgetting those ears. You'll try, but you won't be able to. And that's just what Forché probably wanted. This is gross and barbaric, but if you're reading this poem, you know just how bad it is. These ears represent the people slaughtered in the line of this civil war. Just the way some Native American tribes (and American soldiers during World War II and in Vietnam!) took scalps as trophies to prove their prowess on the battlefield, the colonel has his own hideous collection.

  • Sentences 22: In a poem with very few overt symbols, metaphors, or other figurative language, a simile like this jumps right out. Well, okay, that might have something to do with the source of the comparison. Here the colonel's collected ears are described as like dried peach halves, which is a strong and descriptive visual comparison. More than that, though, it suggests how different these are than living ears. Fresh peaches are ripe and juicy and beautiful and softly napped with little hairs. Dried, they are well, like mummified ears—as gross as that sounds. 
  • Sentences 24-25: The colonel uses the ear as a way to assault his guests with the horrible truth. With its placement in water, the ear steps across into the world of magic realism, where it reawakens from the dead. 
  • Sentences 30-31: Once granted magical rebirth, these ears can now catch a scrap of the colonel's words, and even more amazingly, by pressing to the ground, listening, they bear witness to history's atrocities, they listen and wait for things to change.

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