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Silence
Silence
by Marianne Moore

Silence Theme of Tradition and Customs

Most of the father's speech reads like a classic case of a parent trying to teach his child some manners. We certainly get an idea of what his values are and what he views as "superior" behavior. Of course, we're less sure what the speaker, who represents the next generation, thinks about the father's values. We should consider whether the speaker quotes her father to continue his customs, or to criticize them.

Questions About Tradition and Customs

  1. What does the reference to Longfellow's grave in this modernist poem suggest?
  2. Moore quotes from and references several literary sources, such as Edmund Burke ("make my house your inn") and Ralph Waldo Emerson ("self-reliance"), in addition to Longfellow. She only points out some of these references in the poem's endnotes. Why do you think Moore hides, or embeds, these references within the father's speech?
  3. Who do you imagine to be the speaker's listeners or readers? Does her tone suggest she is trying to instruct them (us) on how to be superior people, just as her father instructed her?

Chew on This

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

The father is not just, literally, the speaker's father, but he symbolizes the past, and all of its old-fashioned values. "Silence" shows how difficult it can be for the current generation to cast off this past.

The father is like the cat's prey, with his quote hanging out of the speaker's mouth just like the mouse's tail hangs out of the cat's. This poem is the speaker's attempt to gobble him up, so that she can finally become the superior person.

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