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Morning in the Burned House Commonlit Answers

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  • 12th Grade

Source: Morning in the Burned House by Margaret Atwood

Assessment Answers

PART A: Which of the following best identifies a theme of the poem?“As people age, they look to the past with both grief and nostalgia.”
PART B: Which of the following quotes best supports the answer to Part A?“if this is a trap or blessing, / finding myself back here, where everything / in this house has long been over / kettle and mirror, spoon and bowl,/ including my own body, / including the body I had then, / including the body I have now” (Lines 23-29).
What effect does the figurative language in lines 17-18 have on the poem’s mood?These lines emphasize the stillness of the house in contrast to the growth and movement of nature.
Throughout the poem, the speaker uses fire as a motif. What does this motif most likely represent in the poem?Fire is both an element of destruction and rebirth, and it represents the passage of time, which creates and destroys as it goes.

How does the first stanza help frame the overall poem? Consider the setting and theme in your answer.

The first stanza of “Morning in the Burned House” by Margaret Atwood effectively sets the stage for the entire poem, both in terms of setting and theme. It begins with a striking image:

“In the burned house I am eating breakfast.
You understand: there is no house, there is no breakfast,
yet here I am.”

This introduction immediately immerses the reader in a vivid and paradoxical scene. The setting—a burned house where the narrator is having breakfast—establishes a surreal atmosphere that challenges the reader’s understanding of reality.

The direct statement that there is neither house nor breakfast further complicates the scene, suggesting a presence within absence or existence within void. This contradiction evokes a sense of loss and the persistence of memory, themes that resonate throughout the poem.

By presenting a setting that is physically absent yet vividly described and experienced by the narrator, Atwood frames the poem as an exploration of how memories and the past continue to inhabit the present, even when the tangible evidence of such memories has been destroyed or lost.

The imagery of the burned house serves as a metaphor for loss—whether it be of home, family, childhood, or a former self—while the act of eating breakfast there symbolizes the everyday moments that become laden with meaning in the face of such loss.

The stanza introduces the theme of navigating through the remnants of the past, a personal and universal theme. It suggests that individuals carry their pasts within them, constantly interacting with memories that shape their current experiences and perceptions.

This theme is further developed through the poem’s detailed imagery and reflective tone, as the narrator grapples with the presence of the past in a landscape marked by absence.

Thus, the first stanza frames the overall poem by establishing a setting that is both a literal and metaphorical space of reflection. It introduces the central themes of loss, memory, and the complex relationship between past and present, setting the stage for the narrator’s journey through a landscape of remembrance within the confines of a “burned house.”

This imagery invites readers to consider how their own memories and losses shape their understanding of themselves and their worlds, making the poem a poignant exploration of the human condition.

Discussion Answers

Do you believe the speaker is nostalgic for or traumatized by their childhood? Where does the speaker direct the bulk of their grief? What makes them happy?

The speaker in “Morning in the Burned House” by Margaret Atwood exhibits a complex emotional landscape that intertwines elements of nostalgia and trauma. The nuanced depiction of the speaker’s state suggests a deep engagement with the past that is both reflective and laden with a sense of loss.

The poem does not explicitly detail the speaker’s childhood or any specific events that may have caused trauma. However, the setting of a burned house and the detailed imagery of loss and absence—such as the missing family members and the remnants of a life that once was—suggest that the speaker’s reflection on the past is tinged with pain and loss. The speaker seems to be processing the aftermath of a significant event, likely associated with the burned house, which could symbolize a traumatic loss from their past.

Yet, there’s also a clear nostalgia thread woven through the speaker’s reflections. The attention to detail in recalling the items within the house, and the act of sitting at the morning table, suggest a longing for the familiarity and comfort of the past, even as it’s acknowledged that these things are gone.

The speaker’s grief appears to be directed not only at the loss of physical objects and family but also at the loss of a former self and the life that was lived before the fire.

Happiness, or a semblance of it, emerges in a complex form towards the end of the poem. The speaker describes sitting “alone and happy” at the morning table, suggesting a form of acceptance or peace has been found in the solitude and reflection.

This happiness might stem from the act of remembering itself, from the connection to the past that these memories afford, or perhaps from the resilience of the human spirit to find solace and a sense of identity even in the aftermath of destruction.

The poem, therefore, portrays the speaker’s emotional state as one of contemplative nostalgia, marked by a profound sense of loss and a nuanced processing of trauma. The grief is directed at the irrevocable changes to the speaker’s world and self, while happiness seems to be found in moments of connection to the past and in the resilience and continuity of the self despite all losses.

According to the poem, should we value our youth? Should we fear aging? Explain your answer.

“Morning in the Burned House” by Margaret Atwood does not explicitly instruct readers to value youth or fear aging. Instead, through its contemplative reflection on loss, memory, and the passage of time, the poem invites a nuanced consideration of both stages of life.

The vivid imagery and emotional depth of the poem suggest a deep appreciation for the moments that constitute our lives, including those of youth. The detailed remembrance of a past life—embodied in the burned house—implies that our younger years are foundational, shaping our identities and memories.

The act of reminiscing, even amidst loss, indicates that youth, with all its experiences, relationships, and moments, holds significant value. It shapes who we become and continues to influence us as we age.

Regarding aging, the poem does not evoke fear but rather presents it as an inevitable, natural process. Aging is depicted through the lens of reflection and self-awareness, highlighting the complex layers of human experience that accumulate over time.

The speaker’s journey through the ruins of the past to a place of solitary contemplation suggests that with aging comes a depth of understanding and acceptance that might not be accessible in youth. The mixed emotions of grief, nostalgia, and eventual peace suggest that aging brings its own form of wisdom and acceptance.

The poem’s ending, where the speaker finds a form of happiness in solitude, suggests that aging allows for a reconciliation with one’s past and a unique appreciation for life’s continuity despite its losses.

This perspective implies that aging, rather than being feared, can be embraced as part of the human experience, offering opportunities for reflection, growth, and finding peace within oneself.

Thus, the poem implicitly argues for valuing every stage of life—youth for its formative experiences and aging for the depth and understanding it brings. It portrays life as a continuum, where each phase has its own value and contributes to the richness of the human experience.

Consider the role of family in this poem. In the context of this text, what is the importance of family? Cite evidence from this text, your own experience, and other literature, art, or history in your answer.

In “Morning in the Burned House” by Margaret Atwood, the role of family is central, yet it is depicted through their absence rather than their presence. The family’s significance is underscored by the void their absence creates, reflecting on family’s profound impact on our lives, our memories, and how we process loss.

Evidence from the Text: The poignant questioning in the lines, “Where have they gone to, brother and sister, / mother and father?” (lines 6-8), highlights the family’s importance through their absence. Their clothes still on the hangers, their dishes piled beside the sink, evoke a sense of sudden loss, a life interrupted. This depiction emphasizes how the family’s presence, or the lack thereof, shapes the environment and the narrator’s emotional landscape, illustrating the depth of connection and loss.

Evidence from Personal Experience: In personal lives, family often constitutes the core of one’s support system, shaping identities, values, and understanding of the world. The loss or absence of family members can leave a profound void, altering one’s sense of belonging and stability. This resonates with Atwood’s depiction, where the absence of family members profoundly impacts the narrator, underscoring family’s irreplaceable role in providing a sense of home and identity.

Evidence from Other Literature: Family is a recurring theme that explores various dimensions of human experience. For instance, in William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” the complexities of family relationships are central to the plot, driving the characters’ actions and the unfolding tragedy. The play examines themes of loyalty, betrayal, and the quest for truth within the family context, demonstrating family’s powerful influence on individuals’ choices and destinies.

Evidence from Art: Art, too, reflects the significance of family through various mediums and styles. Norman Rockwell’s paintings, for example, often depict idealized scenes of American family life, highlighting the family’s role in providing love, security, and cultural continuity. These artworks serve as a visual testament to the importance of family in shaping individuals’ experiences and societal norms.

Evidence from History: Historically, family structures have played crucial roles in societal organization, inheritance, and the transmission of culture and knowledge. The dynastic families of ancient Egypt or medieval Europe, for example, not only governed territories but also embodied the continuity of power and tradition, illustrating how family ties have influenced political and social landscapes throughout history.

In conclusion, “Morning in the Burned House” subtly yet powerfully conveys the importance of family through the lens of absence, prompting reflection on the irreplaceable role family members play in our lives.

This theme resonates across personal experiences, literature, art, and history, highlighting the universal significance of family as a source of identity, belonging, and continuity.

Other Commonlit Answers

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