An Analysis of “Ethics” by Linda Pastan

In her poem “Ethics,” Linda Pastan used tactile and visual imagery. The poem begins by setting the scene in a classroom in which restless children are sitting on hard chairs as their ethics teacher asks them questions. Both restlessness and hard chairs are elements of childhood that can help one place themselves in the position of the poet as a child. The hard chairs is a specific example of tactile imagery that the poet uses. 

The poet used visual imagery in saying that the old woman borrowed her grandmother’s face. This gives the abstract idea of an old woman a concrete identity. The reader is invited to place their own grandmother in the place of the old woman. This form of imagery allows a reader to view the situation from the perspective of the child once again. 

The poet then places herself in the place of the old woman in the burning building, inviting the reader to do the same, to provide the reader with an alternate perspective. This is done to contradict the idea presented in the beginning of the poem- where the life of a Rembrandt is more valuable as it might ultimately outlast the old lady- by comparing the value of the reader’s life with that of the Rembrandt. 

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