The Golden Age

by

Joan London

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The Golden Age: 27. Poetry Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In his first weeks at home, Frank spends every day at the city library, working methodically through the poetry section. Taking the tram is difficult, and he’s always worried about seeing someone he knows. A kind librarian befriends him, even showing him special editions; normally, Frank would be interested and charming with her, but he’s too depressed to take interest in others right now.
Bereft of Elsa, Frank loses even the precocity that got him through his initial hospitalization at the IDB. The only thing that sustains him is his vocation; through his long hours at the library, the novel argues for the psychological benefits of devotion to hard work.
Themes
Vocation Theme Icon
Even though he’s returning to the familiarity of home life, Frank feels deeply alone without the noise and routine of the Golden Age. None of his old clothes fit, and he feels stifled by his parents’ attention. When he looks in the mirror he sees how lopsided and gawky he is; being surrounded by other polio patients, and particularly by Elsa, had shielded him from shame about his looks.
Frank’s feelings contrast with his initial reaction to the Golden Age, when he saw the institution as babyish and the other children as weaker than him. Now he realizes that living among other patients gave him a modicum of independence and insulated him from the social stigma of disability.
Themes
Survival Theme Icon
Meyer and Ida aren’t angry with Frank; they’re amused by his expulsion, which they see as an example of colonial Anglo-Saxon prudery. To them, it’s natural that two sweethearts would want to be together at night. However, as immigrants they know they don’t have enough standing to argue against it, and they know they have to learn to live according to the mores of their new society.
Just like when Frank first caught polio, Ida and Meyer are revealed as powerless to protect him from larger forces influencing his life. It’s another reminder that no matter how much Frank loves his parents, he can’t depend on them for all things, as he did when he was younger.
Themes
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
Frank feels that the Golden Age staff displayed a “lack of faith” in him, refusing to help him when he needed it most. Even Sister Penny didn’t argue fiercely enough to keep him and Elsa together. He knows that the governors wanted to expel him and not Elsa, and he’s touched that she sacrificed herself for him. It’s only when he reads poetry that Frank stops feeling “discarded.”
Frank doesn’t understand that Sister Penny did what she could for him, and this shows poignantly that in many senses he is still a child, and does still expect adults to protect him, regardless of repeated evidence that they can’t always do so.
Themes
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
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In the fall, Frank has to start Modern School, to which he still has a scholarship. The prospect, once exciting, is now unnerving given his disability. Even though he’s carefully adopted an Australian accent and Australian clothes, Frank knows he’ll never fit in among the other kids. He feels that he’s been “marked out from the start.”
Frank’s sense of fatalism is similar to Meyer’s declaration that he now remembers his murdered siblings as “marked” by death. Even as Frank surmounts the obstacles he faces, he’s uncertain about his ability to keep going and, just as importantly, to be happy despite the things he’s survived.
Themes
Survival Theme Icon
The librarian directs Frank to a bookshop, O’Harrell’s, across the city; with planning and some difficulty, Frank negotiates the long walk. He immediately likes Hal, the homely, chain-smoking owner who takes out various novels to show Frank. Frank covets a collection by Hart Crane, but he doesn’t have enough money to pay for it. Curiously, Hal asks if Frank himself writes poetry, and Frank eagerly says he does. Excited by the rare opportunity to be taken seriously, the only lines he can think of are Sullivan’s. After reciting them, he feels instantly guilty and confesses. Hal, unperturbed, says that if the Hart Crane book doesn’t sell soon he’ll give it to Frank and let him pay it off when he can.
Frank hasn’t even told his parents about his vocation yet, so his visit to Hal’s is his first chance to be taken seriously. His slip-up with Sullivan’s poetry shows how much his work is still entwined with his adoration of his mentor; but it’s also clear from his rigorous exploration of poetry that he’s determined to broaden his knowledge and carve out a niche for himself.
Themes
Vocation Theme Icon
At home, Frank lies in bed with his prescription pad. Since he’s been separated from Elsa, no poetry comes to him. He wants to talk to his parents about poetry, but he’s afraid they won’t like his work or understand his confidence in his vocation. Ida especially, having lost her career as an artist, wants Frank to study something practical, like law.
Frank’s writer’s block shows that a vocation depends on more than pure talent. For both Frank and Ida, work facilitates the artist’s relationships with those around him, but it also depends on those relationships to survive.
Themes
Vocation Theme Icon
Frank tries to contact the Backhouse family to return Sullivan’s poetry, but is informed that they’ve moved abroad and left no forwarding address.
Here, Frank realizes exactly how cut-off he is from his former mentor. Now, he has to develop his work on his own.
Themes
Vocation Theme Icon
At night, Ida and Meyer worry over Frank. Ida says she hears him talking to himself in the bathroom. She wants to sign him up for a bar mitzvah class, but Meyer thinks they should give him time to adjust.
As usual, Ida’s more anxious than Meyer. Her instinct (often a correct one) is to take decisive action to protect her son, while Meyer prefers to provide the distance he senses Frank needs.
Themes
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon
One morning, Frank wakes up to a poignant violin concerto playing on the radio. He weeps in bed, and then goes onto the porch to see Meyer. Meyer jokes that their house now is better than the conditions in his Ukrainian labor camp; jokes about the camps used to amuse Frank endlessly, but now he doesn’t even smile. Meyer is disturbed.
Despite his calm attitude, Meyer is perturbed when the old routines of family life don’t work as well as they used to. Here, he finally sees that Frank can’t resume his life as a child without any changes.
Themes
Parenthood and Growing Up Theme Icon