Lauren Culp Mr. Valdez English 203-101 June 9, 2009 Me up at does: The Alternate Perspective E. E. Cummings invites readers to “put yourself in someone else’s shoes” in his 1963 poem, Me up at does. Though short and, when evaluated according to traditional English sentence structure, “grammatically incorrect,” the poem exhibits the same basic elements found within any other form of poetry.
Included in these elements is a speaker who narrates the poetry to the audience; the author’s unique selection of words, otherwise known as diction; an original use of syntax; the inclusion of various forms of figurative language; the incorporation symbols and allegorical elements into the poem; the use of symbolism requiring an imagination of each individual reader; and, of course, an underlying theme, which this author leaves to our own interpretation.
This seemingly-simple poem actually provides a variety of themes for exploration in seeking to determine the author’s overall meaning behind the composition of E. E. Cummings’s Me up at does. Me up at does introduces us to a 3rd person (limited) speaker, by which the audience is able to view the situation from the eyes of the narrator; but this knowledge of the ongoing situation is limited only to the information provided by the speaker themselves. We are then briefly introduced to the two major characters (and only characters, for that matter) in the poem— the narrator and the mouse.
We can extrapolate many details of the situational structure presented in the poem- the narrator had set a “mouse trap” (likely within his own home) to poison and kill the mice living amongst him; the mouse, innocent and helpless, has recently consumed some the poison; as the mouse’s life is coming to a rapid end, it is able to send an unspoken message while staring up at the narrator; the message tells the speaker of his proclaimed innocence and struggle to understand what he did differently than anyone else (especially the narrator) to deserve such a punishment, especially such a punishment as harsh as death.
The primary and most obvious conflict presented in Me up at does is that of the character struggle between the poem’s narrator and the poisoned, quickly-ailing mouse. In this particular poetic conflict, we can draw the conclusion that the mouse’s character takes on that of the protagonist— the mouse is identified as the “good guy” in this poem because he is presented as the innocent victim who has been unrightfully discriminated against without reason.
The mouse could also be considered the static character in this poem because his character does not really change from beginning to end; he is more of a role-player used to provide a means for delivering the author’s message. Therefore, the antagonist (who is held accountable for the bringing about of conflict) can be identified to the character of the poem’s speaker, who is accountable for initially setting up the mouse trap and is ultimately responsible for putting a harsh and undeserved end to the life of the mouse.
The narrator is also likely considered to be the more dynamic character of the two; this is because he or she is the one who shows the most notable demonstration of change by or within a character in the poem. While the mouse does not have much time or ability to change his poetic character before dying, the narrator has the ability to consider and dwell upon the attention that the mouse brought to his wrongdoings; not only during the time period presented within the poem, but also during the remainder of his or her [ongoing] life afterward.
However, the struggle between the protagonist and antagonist analyzed above is not the only conflict developed amongst the characters within Me up at does. E. E. Cummings leaves open the potential to evaluate another struggle developed; this alternative poetic conflict is that by which the narrator faces an internal struggle with his own actions, and the possible feeling of regret and realization of wrongdoing that simply came too late. This allows the narrator to learn a lesson and thus gives the poem a “point” or lesson.
In doing so, it not only allows the narrator to reflect on his or her own actions, but also for the reader to open their own mind to the possibility of a similar situation within their own life. This inclusion of the reader to the poem provides a base for interest of the audience, allowing readers to relate the lessons explored through the poetry and make these lessons applicable within their surroundings. It is important not to underestimate the struggles noted within a poem; as such, we must note that an inner struggle of both the narrator and the mouse is definitely possible.
The inner struggle within the narrator has already been explained. The mouse, on the other hand, may be suffering an inner struggle dealing with self-esteem issues. Not only is the mouse confused as to what it has done so wrong that the narrator himself would not do, but the mouse could also be beginning a pattern of blaming this on himself and developing self-esteem issues that have been building up as a result of continued prejudice against the “mouse,” or whoever this mouse may be representing (but this is a matter of talked about in the themes of the poem, which will be discussed later).
Perhaps the most notable detail of Me up at does is brought out in the syntax of the poem. The arrangement of words within the poetry seem to be strategically fixed; they seem to somewhat “mock” the setting and situation of the poem. For instance, the first half of the poem is very difficult to read. The last half, on the other hand, seems to flow as smoothly as any other poem. ‘Why is this? ’ a reader may wonder. One possibility of this arrangement is that E. E.
Cummings intended for both the halves of Me up at does to be facing the center; that is, the first half of the poem can be read much more clearly when the poem is read from the center up to the top backwards. Then, the second half can be read straightforward from the center down. As mentioned before, this balance was likely used to “mock” the situation taking place during this poem- the narrator is intended to represent the first half of the poem, and the mouse is supposed to represent the second half; and the two are supposed to be facing each other.
This creates a feeling amongst the poem’s words of representation of the poem’s current setting and perhaps makes the poem feel more alive or recent, and makes the reader feel more engaged in the poem- more like a participant than a bystander of the situation at hand. The possible symbols used within Me up at does are those of the mouse standing for one who has been discriminated against at any point in history, and the narrator may stand for one who experiences an epiphany or realization of guilt for the wrongdoing brought about by this discrimination exhibited.
For instance, a possible example that may be suitable are Hitler standing for the narrator and his realization of wrongdoing; and the mouse representing the Jews during the Holocaust wondering what they had done that Hitler or any of the other Nazi would not have done. Or, the narrator could stand for a slaveholder during the time of segregation and the mouse may be a representation of an African American, also wondering what he had done so wrong- was the unfair treatment based solely upon his skin?
Symbols such as these, and other similar relations, may be drawn from the poem with a sufficient amount of evidence to support an argument for distinct symbolism demonstrated within the poem. E. E. Cummings allows his readers to draw a variety of possible themes from his poem. Me up at does simply does not provide a message direct enough for all readers to draw the same conclusion about the author’s message.
For instance, an animal rights activist may view this poem as a means to bring attention to the innocence of all animals, large and small. However, as open for interpretation the poem may be, performing a little background research on the author’s message lends somewhat of a bias toward one potential theme over another. Other readers of this poem have a more concrete interpretation of E. E. Cummings’s underlying meaning; one that includes a focus on those looked down upon by others who consider themselves to be of a higher ranking status.
This interpretation common views the mouse’s death as a symbol of the product of undeserved prejudice, and the narrator’s nonverbal communication with the mouse as his or her first realization of this unwarranted discrimination. Upon reflection of Me up at does, one reader writes, “The poisoned mouse is a representation of a person, race, or someone from the lower status of society who is ostracized and experiencing diminution… The mouse, I would say, is one who experiences exploitation and dehumanization by people and the social order under which he exists” (Alforte).
The reader also addresses a view of symbolism, much like my own personal interpretation, used within this poem, “Why the mouse is poisoned is a symbolism of the many social insights and norms in his society, which the personal himself is a victim by believing and following them. ‘What have I done that you wouldn’t have? ’ is a query asked to those who regard themselves as normal and usual individuals under a normal society that punishes the non-normal and the usual, and treats them like a mouse— to be poisoned and eliminated, not to allow them to achieve equality with the rest of the members of the society” (Alforte).
The essential theme of this poem, though still open for individual interpretation, seems to be about the human life experience and the opportunity to live that we have each been given; but with this opportunity comes hardships and it should be expected that, at some point or another, each of us will feel subjected and be treated unfairly by others. Works Cited Alforte, Aurora D. “An Analysis of the Poem ‘Me up at does? ’” Google Blogspot. 3 Feb 2008. 7 June 2009. <http://aalforte. blogspot. com/>.