by Robert Lowell
Skunk Hour Theme of Madness
The speaker said it himself! His "mind's not right" and it becomes more and more clear as "Skunk Hour" progresses. Because we don't find out this little tidbit until the last half of the poem, it sheds a whole new light on things for your second read, and gives us an explanation for the scattered way the speaker reports what's happening on Nautilus Island. He becomes more disturbed at night – things start to appear more threatening than they are, he's restless, and seems in search of something he never finds. So, there you have it – our speaker, our guide through this poem, is a little off kilter, and we think it makes the ride all the more interesting.
Questions About Madness
- Reading through the poem the second time (once you know our speaker is mentally ill), do you start to see subtle signs of his mental frailty earlier in the piece? Where?
- Besides the speaker straight up stating that his "mind's not right," how else would we discover he's mentally ill?
- Do you think there's anything that has driven the speaker to madness, or do you think that's just the way he his? What clues can you find in the poem to support your decision?
- What exactly do you think the speaker afflicted by? Depression? Mania? Is it temporary? Long-standing? What makes you think so?
Chew on This
The speaker isn't mentally ill. He's just feeling a little down in the dumps and is tired as he's driving around at night.
The speaker was driven mad by the "you" (implied in the "our" in the final stanza), and that's who he's addressing all this to the whole time.