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Silence
Silence
by Marianne Moore

Silence Theme of Language and Communication

We get hit on the head with "silence" as a theme as soon as we read the title, but the poem itself gives us a bit more than promised. The poem constantly negotiates between silence and speech: who gets to talk and who has to stay quiet, what is said and what is held back, should we read the text literally or should we read what the text implies, etc. The ambiguity we see in several lines also makes us wonder: can a lot of words really tell us nothing, while silence can tell us everything?

Questions About Language and Communication

  1. Why do you think the poem is called "Silence," rather than "Superior People" or even "My Father"?
  2. Why does the speaker give so much space to her father's words, rather than her own?
  3. In line 12, the father makes a distinction between silence and restraint. How would you define this difference? Do you see moments in the poem when either the father or the speaker is exercising restraint, rather than just being silent?
  4. Who do you imagine the father speaking to when he describes superior people? Is it clear that he is addressing his child, the speaker? What about the second quote, "Make my home your inn:" who is he speaking to here? 

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The speaker lets her father do most of the talking in order to demonstrate her restraint. She shows us that she could be talking, but deliberately withholds her own opinion.

The father's long quote shows that he doesn't follow his own advice. He values silence, but he talks through most of the poem. The speaker quotes her father to cast him in an ironic light, not because she agrees with his opinion.

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