You Can Have It Essay

Submitted By terroristtaco
Words: 1050
Pages: 5

Detroit, in 1948 How is one supposed to feel when a sibling dies? Is everything forgotten; is there happiness at the thought of that person; resentment towards the company they worked so hard for; anger because no one noticed? Philip Levine wrote the poem “ You Can Have It” in 1979 about a man who remembers his brother when they were in their twenties, and how that man’s brother died in a city that took everything and gave back nothing. There is pain that lies in this man, and the speaker expresses his sorrow in every line of this poem. Levine uses setting, tone, and symbols to describe the loss this man incurs, and how the very thought of his brother invokes feelings of the dreams that they once shared, and the memory that can never be buried. Henry Ford took over the city of Detroit, Michigan, opening the Ford Motor Company and creating thousands of jobs in a place that was not known for much else in those days. Every man that worked hard wanted a better life for his family, and stopped at nothing to accomplish it. The speaker gives a short description of their jobs; he is stacking soda and his brother works at the ice plant, which gives the reader a brief window into how hard they worked, even though it wasn’t actually at the Ford Motor Company. Day in and day out, the two brothers would come home from their laborious jobs and collapse into bed, only to turn around and do it again the very next day. The surviving brother remembers being told one evening that he could have it, not realizing then what the other was actually saying, because in 1948 he dies. He declares, “I give you back 1948” (37), in a manner which shows his disdain for the timing of the death. They were in a bedroom at home, where they shared everything: a bedroom, dreams, a heart. The city itself plays a significant role in the poem, being a dark and cold place where they shared their dreams of one day making it. It is the city where the speaker's brother dies; the city that did not notice the loss of one man who was important to someone; the city that takes, and thirty years later it is still too painful to bear. And, for those same thirty years, the speaker has missed his young brother. No matter what he is not coming back, and the pain in his words suggest that he would never give up trying, setting the tone for the poem.
There is admiration and sincerity in the speaker’s tone when he thinks of his lost brother; the little memories of him bring some comfort in the cold world he now lives in. “His unshaven face is whitened / like the face of the moon” (6-7), illustrates that the speaker is sad and lonely, missing the one thing in his life that made him whole. It allows the reader to get a sense for the melancholy tone of the poem. He thinks about it often; he still remembers the way the moon always looked on his brother’s face. The speaker is proud of his brother, and describes the hard working hands and stained clothes he wore. As the poem goes on, the speaker goes from feeling love towards his lost brother to resentment, for it was the city’s fault that his brother is no longer here. He gets very angry and declares that he would give everything back, wanting to condemn the city and the year for taking what was not theirs to take. His tone then turns sad again, and he begs to see the light on his brother’s face, one more time. That specific memory draws the reader’s attention to the symbolism used throughout this work.
The symbols in this poem are used to describe and illustrate the memories the speaker has of his brother in their youth. For instance, the moon: the speaker remembers seeing his brother’s face washed in the moonlight, and at the end of the poem he wants to give everything back, just to see that again. The fact…