Study Guide

Follower Strength and Skill

By Seamus Heaney

Strength and Skill

In "Follower," the speaker's father is the model of strength and skill. According to his son, he's an absolute expert with the plow. And plowing, especially the horse-drawn kind, is no easy work. It takes an incredible amount of strength to steer the horses and manage the actual plow. Even with all its inherent difficulty, the father is so skilled that he makes it look like a piece of cake (a piece of dirty cake, but still). The father's strength and skill is why the son adores him so much. He looks up to him as a role model for being so good at what he does, so much so, that he's certain he wants to grow up and plow—just like dear old dad.

Questions About Strength and Skill

  1. What about the balance of the father's strength and skill makes him so ideal for plowing? 
  2. Do you think the father is as strong and skilled as the speaker tells us he is, or do you think he's exaggerating because he admires his dad so much? Why do you think so? 
  3. Do you think strength and skill matters in particular because this is a father-son duo, or do you think it would be equally important to a mother-daughter duo? In other words, do you think Heaney decided to have the young speaker zero in on his father's strength and skill because he was such a masculine role model, or do you think masculinity has nothing to do with it? (After your discussion, check out Heaney's poem "Churning Day". Does this change your opinion at all?) 
  4. In the speaker's memory, he's kind of a bumbling weakling compared to his father. Do you think the son ever grew up to be just as strong as his father? Why or why not?

Chew on This

The father's ability is so impressive because he balances what appear to be two opposite qualities: sheer muscular power with delicate and precise skill. Way to go, dad.

We hate to bust any bubbles, but… the father wasn't likely any more skillful or strong than any other grown man; the son just thought he was exceptional because he was so young and undeveloped at the time.

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