What Does the Cockroach Represent in the Poem?

A cockroach is usually considered to be insect with no being or purpose in life. In this poem Kevin Halligan treats the cockroach as if it were a sentient being through it’s movement, but is this cockroach anthropomorphised? This poem has an existentialistic theme in that it is either reflecting how human’s lives are worthless or that the narrator’s life seems to have as much purpose as a cockroach. Throughout the poem the writer describes the cockroach as a, “he” .

In this tightly structured poem shows how the cockroach is a metaphor for how human’s needs in life are utterly unimportant through the cockroach’s impressively human movement. The first line introduces the idea of anthropomorphism by describing an animal doing a human action. In the line, “giant cockroach started to pace”, the writer mentions vaguely how large the cockroach is but the readers don’t know if it is simply large for a cockroach or human size. Also the writer uses the word, “pace”, suggesting that the cockroach is thinking about something (meaning it would be a sentient being).

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This demonstrates that the author considers this cockroach to be more than simply a cockroach. In the third line the writer introduces human emotion to the cockroach making it seem like more than a cockroach. In the line, “he seemed satisfied to trace”, the writer refers to the cockroach as a, “he”, again treating this bug like a person. Later the poet describes the cockroach, as seeming, “satisfied”, which is a content, human emotion. This action could also be a metaphor for a time in the speaker’s life or in anyone’s life where they seemed happy and content with the simplicity of their existence.

The next line reinforces this with, “ A path between the wainscot and the door,”, where the author refers to the, “wainscot”, (usually something you would find in a fancy office) which could have an underlying meaning of a economically successful life. In the fifth line the tone changes; the cockroach seems to want something more in life as if it is looking for meaning. In the line, “But soon he turned to jog in crooked rings. ”, this could mean the cockroach is deep in thought or it seems to be going in circles or pacing around in frustration.

Before it seemed content and, “satisfied”, with it’s simple life but now it seems want to do something that doesn’t seem as pointless as it’s menial work before. Two lines later, “flipping right over to scratch it’s wings – As if it were the victim of some mild attack”, the writer in a human context seems to be describing a mid-life existential crisis which reinforces the idea of the cockroach wanting more in life. Itching it’s head could be linked to being deep in thought. These lines could also be connected to how the cockroach is the, “victim”, to this crisis.

Lines ten and eleven are about the cockroach wanting to make a choice, the writer uses caesura to emphasise how the cockroach seems to be seeking a higher purpose but not being sure how. In line ten, “After a while, he climbed an open shelf”, this could mean a lot of things like reaching a higher vantage point to figure out where to go or wanting to reach enlightenment or some higher purpose. This could be due to the line before where the cockroach was experiencing, “restlessness”, maybe because of it’s confusion of what to do. In the next line, “And stopped. He looked uncertain where to go. , the writer uses abrupt punctuation perhaps to demonstrate the cockroach is pausing to think about it’s next choice or what it wants next. This could represent how human’s needs are never fully met and we always want more. This could also represent that sometimes in our lives we come to a point where we are afraid to take the next step or make a life altering choice that will free us from feelings of pointlessness but might be risky also. The next three lines have a drastic change in content, focus shifts from the cockroach to the meaning of the cockroach, which is just a projection of the speaker’s life onto the insect.

The lines, “Was this do payment for some vicious crime A former life had led to? I don’t know,”, continue with a tone of confusion from the lines before. The author uses karma in this by suggesting that this cockroach deserves to have a meaningless existence through some choices it made in it’s past life. Since the speaker is also reflecting the cockroach upon him/herself this could mean the speaker feels he/she is being punished for something they did in a past life by receiving this one. The last line might be the most important to the poem, “Except I thought I recognised myself. , which clearly is the narrator projecting his life onto the cockroach making this whole experience feel like looking in to a mirror. Right before the author flips the subject of the poem onto himself he ends with how the cockroach is uncertain where to go next, maybe this represents how author/narrator is unsure of where his life is going now. In this poem the cockroach is meant to symbolize the speaker’s life in that all of it’s actions reflect feelings which were and are being felt by the speaker.

We only learn this at the end of the poem after the author uses human-like actions to describe what the cockroach is doing. At first it seems to be content and happy with doing simple tasks but quickly wants more in it’s life and is stricken with uncertainty of how and what to get out of it’s life. In the end we learn that this was just a metaphor for how the speaker feels about his own life. Throughout the poem the narrator is staring at a cockroach bleakly, does his life seem like it has any meaning?

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