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Relationship Between Parents and Child in the Possessive and Those Winter Sundays

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When one boards the train of parenthood, there is no getting off. The journey through parenthood can be frightening as selfless and sacrificial love has to be rendered; and it is only when a child matures, and gains experience that their view of the world begins to change. In “The Possessive,” Sharon Olds tells of a possessive mother who is losing control over her daughter as she evolves in a young lady and begins to rebel. In “Those Winter Sundays’, Robert Hayden tells of regretful son reflecting on his apathy towards his father who demonstrated sacrificial love. These poems are similar in that they both explore the relationship between parent and child, where the parents demonstrate unconditional love for their children who later mature and gain different insights on parenthood. However, they differ in that “The Possessive” conveys the idea of a controlling and jealous mother whose daughter rebels whereas “Those Winter Sundays” conveys the idea of a more unrestricted love, where a son grows to understand his father’s sacrifices.

Similar to “Those Winter Sundays,” the poem “The Possessive” explores an unconditional love between a parent and child. One may argue that there was no evidence of love in this poem, but Olds diction clearly highlights the way the mother feels about her child. In fact, in the tercet she states, “My daughter” (1). The word “my” in this first line signifies the connection she has with her daughter and how attached she is, the use of this possessive pronoun shows how she feels. This is symbolic of the love that she has for her child, as he possessive nature of the mother was her method of showing love. Likewise in “Those Winter Sundays” unconditional love is evident. This father like the mother Olds writes about does not verbalize the words I love you but, the love is apparent through their actions. The speaker in “Those Winter Sundays” tells the reader in the first stanza, “Sundays too my father got up early/ and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold/then with cracked hands that ached/from labor in the weekday weather made/ banked fire flames.”(1-5) Literally, these lines can be interpreted to mean that his father got up early on Sundays to get wood for fire in the house, though his hands ached and were cracked from all the work he did during the week. However, if one was to figuratively interpret the alliteration “blueblack” in line two it would be symbolic of the sadness, pain and discomfort during the winter; however, he gathered wood to make fire, which can symbolically represent the warmth and love for his children.

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Both children gained maturity which resulted in a changed relationship with their parent. “What did I know, what did I know/ of love’s austere and lonely offices?”(13-14) In these lines the speaker acknowledges that as a child, he was ignorant of the love his father demonstrated. He did not understand what it meant to be a father, and to perform the “austere and lonely” duties that family love demands. The repetition in line 13 also highlights the regret of the son. There is so much meaning attached to this repetition as it appeals to the emotions of the reader. The reader is able to realize that the son that was once young and ignorant has matured and is now able to recognize and understand his father’s method of love. He is now able to understand that his father continuously cared and provided warmth for the family by working hard in the cold everyday which resulted in aching cracked hands, providing wood for fire to keep his family warm and additionally polishing his child shoe as mentioned in the second quintet “and polished my good shoes as well” (12). He is now able to understand and appreciate the sacrificial love of his father. Similarly in “The Possessive” the reader can infer that the daughter is a stage where she is maturing and becoming her own person. However, her mother is fearful of the fact that she has to let go. As a result of the daughter’s maturity, her mother sees rebellion and states “Distant fires can be/glimpsed in the resin light of her eyes/ the watch fires of an enemy, a while before/the war starts.”(17-20). There is now a change in the relationship she has with her mother because she has evolved. Her mother now characterizes her as an enemy, as there is the realization that she and her daughter will begin to oppose on issues and decisions. Literally these lines can be interpreted to mean that she saw the reflection of fire in her daughter’s eye, however, figuratively this symbolizes war or rebellion between mother and daughter. Her diction throughout the poem can also support this as she uses words such as “blade”, “carbon steel” and “knife grinder.”

Contrary to “Those Winter Sundays,” “The Possessive” shows possessive love. The mother was extremely controlling and jealous. Throughout the poem the reader sees that the mother is upset because her daughter obtained a haircut that she did not agree to. In the first couplet she states “has been to the barber, that knife grinder.”(4) Her choice of diction and the use of metaphor should be noticed. She refers to the barber as a knife grinder which could infer that she believes the barber is sharpening her daughter, or aiding to the process of her rebelling. In the third stanza she implies, “The blade of new bangs/ hang over her red-brown eyes/like carbon steel” (7-9). This is suggestive that there is a change in the daughter, carbon steel suggesting the coverage of the daughter’s personality that the mother once knew. In “Those Winter Sundays” there is no evidence that the father was possessive. However, the son was a bit fearful of the father as in the second stanza he states “fearing the chronic angers of that house.” (9) In this line, the speaker is focuses on the emotional relationship he has with his father. The word “chronic” used in this line can infer that the angers in the household are constant and recurring. This however, refers to emotions and can be directly linked to the individuals that were in the household. In addition, he states “that house” instead of classifying it as my house. The reader can conclude that the speaker has withdrawn himself from the rage or angers of the house, the disagreement that resulted in him being fearful. In addition he states “speaking indifferently to him,” (10). From this line the reader can conclude that the relationship with his father was as the weather, cold. Through this statement it is made apparent that speaker keeps his distance from his father because they have a tense relationship as inferred in line nine.

Both poems, explore the relationship between parents and child. It was made apparent that the parents loved their children, however the love was different and the relationships were different. A possessive mother’s love results in her child gaining independence and becoming her own person and the sacrificial love of a hardworking father results in a son gaining an eye opener to the his sacrifices and regretting that he did not reciprocate or show appreciation for his father’s love. Hence, both parents loved unconditionally without hugs, kisses and verbalizing the words “I love you”. The love illustrated in these poems between the parent and child, can be considered deep and abiding; a quiet love. On the train of parenthood and there is no getting off, approach with caution for selflessness and sacrificial love lies ahead.

Works Cited

  • Hayden, Robert. “Those Winter Sundays.” Responding to Literature: Stories, Poems, Plays, and Essays, edited by Judith A. Stanford, 5th ed, McGraw-Hill, 2006, pp.740-741.
  • Olds, Sharon. “The Possessive.” Responding to Literature: Stories, Poems, Plays, and Essays, edited by Judith A. Stanford, 5th ed, McGraw-Hill, 2006, p. 736.


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