Robert Hayden Those Winter Sundays Essay

Total Length: 1681 words ( 6 double-spaced pages)

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Winter Sundays," Robert Hayden memorializes his working class father in an emotionally powerful poem. The speaker reflects on the inability of his working class father to demonstrate love and affection in ways that a young child might have preferred, instead laboring his life away to the extent that resting on Sundays is barely possible. The poem is set on Sunday so that the speaker can reflect fully on how working class labor can be dispiriting for a man, while the seasonal setting of winter provides the additional imagery of the brutality of northern cold. Throughout his life, the father depicted in the poem remains stoic and uncomplaining and yet his frustration and anger do manifest themselves in the home environment. Notably absent from the poem is the speaker's mentioning of a mother, suggesting possibly that the father was a single father raising his son. Robert Hayden's "Those Winter Sundays" comments on masculinity as well as social class, thereby as the poet reveals the intersection between gender and class.

One of the prevailing themes of "Those Winter Sundays" is how the relationships between fathers and sons become strained when the fathers are conscripted to work in the capitalist model of labor exploitation. As Hiraldo points out, literature like Hayden's "Those Winter Sundays" and Miller's Death of a Salesman share in common the theme of showing how the strain of trying to achieve the American dream creates problems for working class families. Both Hayden's "Those Winter Sundays" and Death of a Salesman depict the motif of "separation" between father and son due directly to the stress of the working class labor model (Hiraldo 6). Separation is a major motif in "Those Winter Sundays." Hayden uses diction to emphasize the theme of separation. For example, the speaker in "Those Winter Sundays" describes the winter cold as being so brutal it could be heard as a "splintering," or "breaking" sound (line 6). The terms "splintering" and "breaking" emphasize the brutality of winter and are also metaphors for the separation of the father from the son, as well as the separation of the father from his own emotions. The term splinter refers literally to the severing of an item like wood, rendering the item fragmented instead of whole. Likewise, the term breaking encapsulates several additional elements in the Hayden the poem. For example, the labor the father does is back breaking, taking a major toil on his body. Labor breaks the spirits of the working class, while also breaking families apart -- splintering them.

In "Those Winter Sundays," the speaker also hints at the effects of back breaking manual labor on men's mental health.
The father's hands are "cracked," a term that is also used to describe someone who is mentally ill, or someone who has separated from reality (line 3). In "Those Winter Sundays," it is not so much detachment from reality that is the mental health issue but the detachment or "separation" between father and son that Hiraldo claims is quintessential to the working class patriarchal ethos (6). Questioning the "emotional and psychological ideals attached to our economic system" is not the primary purpose of "Those Winter Sundays," (Hiraldo 6). The poem comments on the alienation created by capitalist labor systems but Hayden's poem is more personal than it is about creating social commentary.

However, the speaker does insinuate that the father's need to provide for his family within a capitalist patriarchal social structure is what eventually leads to his inability to express emotions in a healthy way. The father effectively sacrifices his own life for his son, and in doing so sacrifices the possibility of an emotional or affectionate bond. The father does not express love verbally, but nor does the son, who admits to "speaking indifferently to him," (line 10). In fact, the speaker grew up fearing his father because of the emotional distance between them. Emotional distance is usually characterized by the metaphor of coldness, and the coldness in "Those Winter Sundays" symbolizes the emotional coldness in the family. Emotional coldness is created by the inability of the father to transcend societal gender norms in which men are to be the primary breadwinners and also to be inexpressive of their love and emotion.

The suggestion of domestic violence in the poem occurs when the speaker describes the extreme cold using the descriptive term "blueblack," (line 2). The father has to dress in the "blueblack cold," using the startling, poignant imagery of a black and blue mark or a bruise to describe the way the cold affects the human body (line 2). However, Hayden also uses the term blueblack specifically to hint at the possibility of physical abuse or domestic violence. The speaker of the poem does not overtly mention being beaten by the father,….....

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Works Cited

Gallagher, Ann M. "Hayden's 'Those Winter Sundays.'" The Explicator, Vol. 51, No. 4, pp. 245-247.

Hayden, Robert. "Those Winter Sundays." Retrieved online:

Hiraldo, Carlos. "Is Their Class in This Room?" About Campus. Wiley Online Library, DOI: 10.1002/abc.20042.

Moore, Harry. "Offices of Love": A New Look at the Ending of Hayden's 'Those Winter Sundays.'" The Explicator, Vol. 69, No. 2, p. 56-59.

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