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6.4 "Walking around" – Pablo Neruda

8 min readjune 29, 2023


AP Spanish Literature 💃🏽

24 resources
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This literature piece, titled "Walking around," is a poetic reflection of a person's disillusionment with being a man and the desire to break free from societal constraints, exploring themes of identity, alienation, and existential introspection.

Context Behind "Walking Around"

Author Background

The author of this piece is the renowned Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Born as Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto, Neruda adopted his pen name in honor of the Czech poet Jan Neruda. He was a prolific writer and diplomat, deeply involved in politics, and known for his passionate and emotionally charged poetry. Neruda's works often centered on themes of love, nature, and social justice. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1971, and his poetry remains influential and widely celebrated.
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Image Courtesy of Getty Images

Time and Place

📜 Historical: The historical context of the literature piece is likely set in the mid-20th century when societal norms and expectations regarding gender roles were particularly rigid. This era was marked by increasing industrialization and urbanization, leading to changing perceptions of masculinity and femininity. It was a time of social upheaval and political turmoil, which may have influenced the poet's sense of disillusionment and alienation.
🗺️ Geographic: The geographic context of the literature piece is not explicitly specified in the poem. However, considering Neruda's background, the imagery, and settings described in the poem may draw inspiration from the landscapes of Chile. Chile's diverse geography, with its mountains, lakes, and coastline, often served as a backdrop for his poetic explorations of nature and human emotions.

Societal Context

👑 Political: The poem does not directly address political events, but it is worth noting that Neruda was a politically engaged poet and diplomat. He held leftist political views and was associated with the Communist Party of Chile. His poetry often contained subtle and explicit political messages, advocating for social justice and criticizing oppression.
🧑🏽‍🤝‍🧑🏻 Socio-economic: The socio-economic context reflected in the poem is one of urban life and consumerism. The protagonist's encounters with tailor shops, movie houses, barbershops, and stores emphasize the commodification of human existence and the pressures of conformity within a materialistic society. The poem hints at the existence of economic disparities, symbolized by the "half-frozen" and grief-stricken warehouse with corpses, contrasting with the mundane everyday life.
🎭 Cultural: The cultural context of the literature piece is influenced by Chilean culture, where Pablo Neruda is a celebrated figure. Chilean culture embraces a strong literary tradition, and Neruda's poetry, with its vivid imagery and emotional depth, resonates deeply with readers worldwide. The poem explores universal themes of existential angst and the search for authenticity, transcending specific cultural boundaries.

Need to Know About "Walking Around"

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Characters

The Protagonist: The protagonist is a disillusioned individual, tired of conforming to societal expectations of manhood. They long for liberation and contemplate drastic actions to break free from the monotony of their existence. The character's internal struggle reflects the alienation and existential angst experienced in a conformist society.

Literary Terms and Devices

This text has a lot of literary terms that you could analyze! Try to get familiar with a few of the following and their purpose:
  • 🕊️ Verso libre (Free verse): The poem is written in verso libre, which is evident in its lack of a strict meter or rhyme scheme. Neruda's free verse style allows him to create a natural and unforced flow, enhancing the poem's emotional intensity and introspective tone. The absence of regular rhythmic patterns reflects the protagonist's inner turmoil and sense of restlessness, emphasizing the authenticity and rawness of their emotions.
  • 📝 Enumeración (Enumeration): Throughout the poem, Neruda employs enumeración or enumeration, using lists of sensory details and objects to paint a vivid picture of the protagonist's surroundings and experiences. The enumeration of tailor shops, movie houses, barbershops, gardens, and elevators serves to highlight the character's growing disillusionment with the materialistic and consumer-driven aspects of society. This literary technique intensifies the sense of alienation and dissatisfaction that the protagonist feels in their environment.
  • 🌟 Símbolo (Symbol): The poem abounds with symbolic elements that add depth to its themes. The "green knife" symbolizes the character's urge for radical change and liberation from societal constraints. The "half-frozen warehouse with corpses" serves as a symbol of emotional numbness and disconnection from the world. These symbols contribute to the poem's exploration of identity, existential angst, and the search for authenticity in an oppressive and materialistic society.
  • 🖼️ Imagen (Imagery): Imagery plays a central role in the poem, as Neruda uses vivid sensory descriptions to evoke powerful emotions. The "water of wombs and ashes," "smell of barbershops," and "spectacles" create a rich sensory experience, heightening the reader's understanding of the protagonist's feelings of alienation and weariness. The imagery of "blood leading toward the night" and "dirty tears falling" intensifies the poem's emotional impact and adds a haunting quality to the character's internal struggles.
  • 📚 Alusión (Allusion): The poem makes subtle allusions to various elements, suggesting deeper layers of meaning. The mention of "law clerks" and "nuns" alludes to the structures of authority and tradition that the protagonist desires to challenge. Additionally, the poem's title itself, "Walking Around," may allude to the brevity and urgency of the character's need to express their disillusionment and desires.
  • 🔍 Asíndeton (Asyndeton): Asíndeton is used to create a sense of urgency and emotional intensity in the poem. The deliberate omission of conjunctions between phrases, such as "no more stores, no gardens, no more goods, no spectacles, no elevators," emphasizes the character's overwhelming desire to escape from the trappings of consumerism and societal expectations. This technique intensifies the character's internal conflict and the sense of detachment from their surroundings.
  • Polisíndeton (Polysyndeton): In contrast to the use of asíndeton, Neruda also employs polisíndeton, where conjunctions are repeated, to add a rhythmic quality to the poem. For example, the phrase "my eyes, my shoes, my rage" enhances the emotional cadence, emphasizing the character's intense emotional state and sense of dissatisfaction. Polisíndeton contributes to the poem's emotional impact, providing a rhythmic contrast to the free verse style.
  • 📈 Verosimilitud (Plausibility/Realism): While the poem presents abstract and emotional themes, it maintains verosimilitud or plausibility, making the protagonist's experiences relatable to readers. The portrayal of disillusionment with societal norms and the yearning for authenticity resonates with the human experience of questioning one's identity and purpose. The use of relatable imagery and emotions allows readers to connect with the poem's themes on a personal level, making it more impactful and believable.
  • ⚖️ Antítesis (Antithesis): The poem incorporates antítesis or antithesis by contrasting the character's feelings of weariness and dissatisfaction with their desire for radical change. The protagonist's longing for authenticity and liberation stands in stark contrast to the mundane and conformist aspects of their life. This contrast between opposites enhances the poem's exploration of duality and existential tension.
  • 🔃 Paradoja (Paradox): The poem's title itself presents a paradoxical statement, as the title suggests brevity while the poem delves into complex themes. The character's yearning to "lie still like stones or wool" while also expressing a desire for radical action creates a paradoxical tension within their psyche. The use of paradox adds depth to the character's internal conflict and underscores the complexity of human emotions.
  • 🧩 Yuxtaposición (Juxtaposition): Neruda employs juxtaposition by placing contrasting images and emotions side by side. For instance, the "water of wombs and ashes" juxtaposes birth and death, representing the cyclical nature of life and the character's contemplation of existence. This literary device reinforces the theme of duality and adds richness to the poem's exploration of contrasting emotions and experiences.
  • 🌈 Sinestesia (Synesthesia): The poem employs sinestesia or synesthesia, blending sensory experiences to evoke emotional responses. The protagonist's reaction to different things combines the sense of smell with sound, intensifying the character's emotional distress. Sinestesia contributes to the poem's vividness and emotional depth, enabling readers to immerse themselves in the protagonist's inner world.
Phew, that was a lot. Let's get into the summary of the text. ⏬

Summary of "Walking Around"

The poem presents a deeply introspective monologue of a person who is weary of their gender role and the materialistic trappings of society. The protagonist desires to break free from the mundane and searches for authenticity in a world plagued by conformity and consumerism. Throughout the poem, the character expresses a longing for a radical transformation, seeking to escape the pressures of being "a man" and find meaning beyond the superficial aspects of life.
Amidst the protagonist's feelings of disillusionment, the poem also presents a desire for transgressive acts that could shatter societal norms. The character contemplates shocking gestures like terrifying a law clerk with a cut lily or striking a blow on a nun's ear, symbolizing a rebellious urge to disrupt the established order. These fantasies of radical actions serve as a cathartic release for the protagonist's pent-up frustrations and existential unrest.

Analysis and Significance of "Walking Around"

The poem stands as an expression of existential disillusionment, capturing the universal human desire for authenticity and self-discovery. Through evocative imagery and emotional depth, Neruda portrays the internal struggle of the protagonist, making it relatable to readers of various cultural backgrounds. The poem's significance lies in its timeless exploration of the individual's search for meaning and identity, inviting readers to reflect on their own roles in society and the pursuit of genuine self-expression. It serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of questioning societal norms and embracing one's true self, transcending the constraints imposed by culture and society.
The poet's use of vivid imagery and emotionally charged language intensifies the impact of the protagonist's disillusionment and longing for authenticity. The poem employs a wide array of literary techniques to convey the character's state of mind, such as free verse (verso libre) and enumeration, creating a sense of urgency and emotional intensity. The use of symbols, like the green and the knife enhance the underlying themes. Neruda's skillful incorporation of asyndeton and polysyndeton further heightens the poem's emotional rhythm, representing the character's turbulent thoughts and emotional turmoil.
Beyond its personal and emotional exploration, the poem's significance lies in its timeless relevance to the human condition. It serves as a poignant reminder that societal pressures and materialistic pursuits can lead to a sense of disconnection and alienation. Neruda's portrayal of the character's inner struggle resonates with readers across generations and cultures, urging them to reflect on their own lives and the pursuit of authenticity. Through the exploration of identity, societal constraints, and the longing for genuine connection, the poem remains an enduring piece of literature that encourages introspection and self-discovery. It exemplifies the power of poetry to convey complex emotions and universal themes, making it a timeless and cherished work in the realm of literary expression.

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