The speaker in "Toads" is feeling stuck for a couple of different reasons. First of all, he's got that ugly toad (work) squatting on him. It keeps him from getting what he wants out of life. He feels confined by it and he wants to find a way free from it. The trouble is, he's got one of those toads in him as well. (What, did he swallow it or something?) It turns out that getting free from both of these toads might not be possible.
Questions About Freedom and Confinement
Do you think the speaker's confinement is real or imagined? Is he making a big deal out of nothing? Why or why not?
Can you relate to the speaker in terms of feeling confined by societal expectations? If so, give an example. If you can't relate to the speaker's feelings of confinement, why not?
Larkin uses the image of a big, heavy, ugly toad squatting "on [the speaker's] life" to represent the sense of confinement and feeling trapped under a societal obligation to work. Gross, right? What are some more common images or metaphors associated with confinement and loss of freedom? Would those have worked in this poem? Why or why not?
Are there any structural elements in the poem that reinforce the sense of confinement or lost freedom? How do they reinforce this sense?
Chew on This
Relax, fella. The speaker's sense of confinement is all in his head. It is a personality flaw. Societal demands and obligations are not to blame.
No escape—the form and structure of "Toads" mirrors the sense of confinement that the speaker feels.