Study Guide

Digging Family

By Seamus Heaney

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We see three generations of men from the same family in "Digging." The speaker is the youngest, and he reflects on his father and grandfather. We see the similarities through the generations (they all work hard, and value hard work), and the differences (the speaker has chosen an entirely different line of work from his father and grandfather). Plus the speaker compares himself to the men who came before him; he knows he's breaking family tradition by becoming a writer instead of a man who works the land, and that makes him a wee bit uncomfortable. Farming is a huge part of his family's identity, so our speaker has to figure out how he fits into a family where he carries out an entirely different role.

Questions About Family

  1. Why does the speaker think it's so important to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather?
  2. Did you notice that there are no women around? Why do you think that is? What effect does the absence of women in this poem have on your understanding of the speaker's family?
  3. Do you think the speaker has a close relationship to his family? Why or why not?
  4. What do you imagine the father and grandfather would say to our speaker about his choice to become a writer? How do you know?

Chew on This

The speaker has never had a close relationship with the men in his family, and that's why he feels like even more of an outsider for not working the land.

Although the speaker has chosen a different line of work from his father and grandfather, he still feels connected to them through the hard work and skill required of a writer.

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