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Turtle

Turtle

by Kay Ryan

Food Imagery

Symbol Analysis

One of many things people have in common with animals is the need to eat. When pressed, we'll do whatever it takes to find food. For example, if you were dying for a jelly donut in the middle of the night, would you throw a coat on over your PJs and drive to a 24-hour donut shop? Okay, okay, maybe that's not such a great example. If you were starving in a jungle, would you eat grubs and worms to survive? Ew! Okay, we'll lay off the examples. But you get our drift. Ryan's turtle can "ill afford the chances she must take" to find food, but she does it anyway because she has no choice if she wants to survive. Does that make her a pitiful victim or a patient victor? Maybe analyzing these food-related imagery and metaphors will help you decide.

  • Line 2: Who doesn't love a freshly-baked hard roll, warm from the oven and slathered with butter? Uh-oh, Shmoop seems to have wandered off into the viewpoint of the turtle's predators instead of focusing on the turtle's needs. We're so ashamed. Blame the speaker: that insensitive (yet funny) metaphor of the "barely mobile hard roll" tricked us into a less than sympathetic mindset (see "Speaker" and our "Detailed Summary" for more on this).
  • Line 4: As an allegorical poem, "Turtle" contains few details about real-life turtles, but this line correctly notes that "grasses" are a food source for turtles. In fact, most adult land turtles are herbivores, living on grass, leaves, and fruit. Even this one tiny bit of green, this one realistic detail, helps remind us that the turtle really will die without food.
  • Lines 8-9: Again, the turtle is searching for food, just "something edible," implying that she's so hungry she's not particular about the menu. Say you're driving to a restaurant for dinner with friends. You're starving, because you haven't eaten anything since breakfast (except those chips from the vending machine, and they don't count, right?), but then your car breaks down. Bummer! "Stuck up to the axle," the turtle, like you, suffers hunger pangs, but she also suffers from fear that she'll become someone else's dinner. 
  • Lines 10-11: With all that armor, turtles look as if they'd be pretty safe from predators. But in the real world, turtles actually have a surprising number of predators: raccoons, crows, coyotes, ravens, foxes, opossums, and skunks have all been known to help themselves to a turtle's "serving dish." It's a clever metaphor, but also a horrible one when you think about it.
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