Study Guide

Turtle Freedom and Confinement

By Kay Ryan

Freedom and Confinement

She can ill afford the chances she must take
In rowing toward the grasses that she eats. (3-4)

You go, girl! At least the turtle is on the move here, heading for her favorite meal despite all the dangers along the way. The reference to "chances" reminds us of the odds stacked against her. How free are we if bad luck can sabotage our best-laid plans at any moment?

She's often stuck up to the axle on her way
To something edible (8-9)

Everyone gets stuck occasionally, but this turtle seems unusually accident-prone, as she "often" ends up stuck during her forays for food. Either she's doing something wrong, or she really was born under an unlucky star. Or maybe nature just isn't fair.

[…] and almost any slope
Defeats her modest hopes (6-7)

In the musical South Pacific, the heroine confesses: "I'm stuck like a dope with a thing called hope, and I can't get it out of my heart." The turtle's "modest hopes" are repeatedly dashed. At what point does discouragement become despair? When the turtle is stuck in the mud, does she still have any hope stuck in her heart?

She skirts the ditch which would convert
Her shell into a serving dish. (10-11)

It's a turtle's worst-case scenario: lying in a ditch on your back, totally exposed to predators. Talk about trapped! So far the turtle has somehow managed to avoid this fate: her life, as well as her freedom, depends on it.

[…] She lives
Below luck-level, never imagining some lottery
Will change her load of pottery to wings. (12-13)

In many ways, the turtle seems caged by circumstances, and what caged creature doesn't dream of flying free? But the turtle can't imagine such freedom. She's had so much bad luck, she doesn't expect it to change. But do her low expectations mean that she's given up? Is it possible to find freedom, even within the narrow boundaries of a turtle's life?

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