How to Face It – English Literature Essay
Often it’s hard to make the right decision. It’s much easier for people to go out and have fun rather than stay home and fix dinner for their children. A lot of people just go out and get a divorce rather than try to work things out with their spouse. It’s easier to stop going to school after finishing high school as opposed to going on to college.
People who make better decisions end up doing better in life. Decisions and problem solving are the subject of many articles, books, and poems, such as Stephen Dobyns’ poem “How to Like It.” “While many of the poems have the illusion of an almost documentary objectivity, they reveal instead the soulful confessions of one individual in turmoil…” says Andy Brumer about Dobyns. In “How to Like It” the man in the poem is having trouble facing a problem of life, but ends up making the right decision in the end.
There are several lines that indicate that the man is trying to avoid a problem. He wants to run away when the narrator says “like an unsettled feeling in the blood,/The desire to get in a car and just keep/driving” (Dobyns 6-8). The man is trying to run away from a problem or situation that he does not want to deal with. The dog says “Let’s go downtown and get/crazy drunk” (Dobyns 10-11). Drinking is a way many people use to forget or avoid their problems. Then the dog says, “Let’s tip over all the trashcans we can find” (Dobyns 12) as if the man is distraught and has an urge to trash everything in his life. He wants to leave everything behind and start new, which is symbolized by “…will be the lights/of a city entirely new to him” (Dobyns 71-72). It’s as if he wants to go where no one knows him to remind him of his problem.
The man may be remembering something that happened to him earlier in life and its causing him distress. The narrator says, “…the man/is struck/by the apprehensiveness of his past…” (Dobyns 15-17). The man apparently always has memories of his past but now they are coming in clearer to him, as if he’s been thinking about them more than usual. This is shown by the lines “…how memories/which were shifting and fluid have/ grown more solid” (Dobyns 17-20). Then the man looks into the trees “until it seems he can see remembered/faces” (Dobyns 21-22). He is seeing people that he knows “caught up among the dark places/in the trees” (Dobyns 23-24). The word choice that the narrator uses is dark places and since dark is usually a symbol of evil or bad then these are not good memories that the man is having. Possibly he tries to block these memories out but on this night, he has been unsuccessful. Tonight they have come out to haunt him.
Another part of this poem that shows the man is having trouble facing a problem is the dog. The dog seems to be the man’s conscience. When the dog speaks to the man, he is usually giving the man ways to get around the problem at hand without actually facing it. For instance the dog says, “Let’s pick up some girls/and just/rip off their clothes” (Dobyns 25-27). Going out and picking up women would be a way to try and have fun now and forget the problem until another time. Later in the poem the dog says “Let’s stuff ourselves on burgers” (Dobyns 46). People often eat when they are lonely although the food only makes them feel full physically, not emotionally. Then the dog says, “Let’s go to sleep. Let’s lie/down/by the fire…” (Dobyns 57-59). People often go to sleep as a way of escaping their problems. While it may help somewhat, it is still just a way to run away from them. Everything the dog suggests is a way of feeling good right now with no regard to the consequences that will happen later, until the last few lines. Then the man’s dog, or his conscience, seems to have a change of heart. The dog says, “Let’s just go back inside. / Let’s not do anything tonight” (Dobyns 73-74). So they go up the steps and back into the house, which is a symbol for going in to face the problem.
The man chooses in the end to stand and fight, instead of running away. He is left “staring into the refrigerator/as if into the place where the answers/are kept” (Dobyns 88-90). The man isn’t sure of the answers, but he has made the decision to stick around and try to find them. The narrator says the man is looking for “what comes next and how/to like it” (Dobyns 95-96). The man is trying to deal with his problems in a way that is bearable to him. Problems occur in peoples’ lives all the time. Often when the situation seems unbearable, there is a struggle to not run away, or to not take the easy way out. Possibly he has realized that a superficial solution never really solves the problem; it just delays the time for having to face the music down the road.
Brumer, Andy. “Dobyns, Stephen.” Contemporary Authors 18 (1986): 120-121.
Dobyns, Stephen. “How to Like It.” ENG113 Poetry Handout. Fall 97.