Interpretation of Family by William Wallis
Dr. William Wallis is a professor of poetry at Los Angeles Valley College, but this is just one facet of a complicated renaissance man. He teaches literature, but rather than just teaching figures from the literary cannon, also is able to bring his own literary creations to the table. He is the author of poetry, and has written several autobiographical novels, which include Hawk, Warrant Glen, and One Moment More. One of his noteworthy poems, “Family” explores his relationship with his aunt in her last years of life and offers reflections of her remembrance after the fact. This poem uses the themes of everyday household objects to offer insights into his aunt Lennie’s life and what parts of her remain with him even after her departure.
One image that Wallis employs in his poem family is the repeating motif of a quilt. In the third line he writes, “As she continued to cook and quilt / Within her immaculate apartment” (Wallis, 42). This image comes with prepackaged meanings and associations. It casts his aunt in a domestic role from an older tradition. It also casts his aunt as from an older generation. One would find it difficult to meet someone who in this day and age is quilting. This image returns, but in a new context later on in the poem. In the seventeenth and eighteenth line Wallis writes, “There was only the web of her plain-spun / Experience, her craft, her quilting mind.” It is easy to know what a “quilt” is. It Is also easy to know what a “mind” is, but a quilting mind is a bit more enigmatic a code to crack. One interpretation is that quilting, like other tasks was what shaped Lennie. As minds are programed by experience, the experience of being a domestic housewife shaped Lennie. A second interpretation is to understand her as a complicated person. Quilts are made from swatches of many fabrics, so unlike a blanket, there is more of a diversity of character.
Much of the poem is about letters. They are modified as “dependable letters.” This indicates that she sent them with a predicable regularity. The speaker, Wallis, always had to dig though for “a hint of verse in the lines.” Even the stamp was always “a flag stamp, always plain.” This presents Aunt Lennie as perhaps a boring person. She was certainly simple. But the speaker through the development of the poem begins to see a value in this simplicity.
These letters after she is gone, after her heart “fluttered those last three years” lives on for the speaker within those letters. She also lives on through her child. Perhaps because Lennie seems like a formal person in this poem, it shocks the speaker to hear “laughter by her little boy” (Wallis, 43). He is a symbol of the continuance of her life, dancing in this never-ending cycle.
Wallace’s poem “Family” is a confessional poem. And in it he gives a new life to an aunt who has departed. She is “now gone, gathered to her God in kind” (Wallace, 43). The unspoken truth of the poem is how these remembrances of objects, and their images gives Lennie a lasting life that transcends the physical limitations of organic life.
Wallis, William. “An Introduction to Lyric Poetry.” Selected Essays. Sherman Oaks: Stone and Scott, 2002.
Hawk. Sherman Oaks: Stone and Scott, 2006.
One Moment More. Los Angeles: Lone Wolf Edition, 2008.
“Writing an Interpretive Essay. “Selected Essays. Sherman Oaks: Stone and Scott, 2002.