A Note Left on Jimmy Leonard's Shack by James Wright: Summary and Critical Analysis

This poem is at one level a simple recounting of the poet's own childhood experience. The whole poem is the content of a 'note' that a boy writes and leaves near a sleeping drunkard whom the boy cannot wake him because of fear.

James A. Wright (1927-1980)

The speaker of the poem is a small boy who has been sent to give a message to the drunken man (Jimmy) by an older boy (Beany); the bigger boy was perhaps afraid to go himself! The small boy’s plight is revealed through the things he writes in the note and leaves for the sleeping man to read!

This childhood lack of understanding and the absurd fear of a drunken man are striking if we do not forget that the speaker is a child and not a grown up. The drunkard’s brother, worse than him, is lying on the riverbank, intoxicated with drug, almost dying. But the boys are trying to save him from the police. And so, one of them has to go and inform the man’s elder brother; but it is like mice trying to put a bell on the cat’s neck! The poem also highlights what happens when the child is troubled with fear, prohibition, misconceptions and such troubles.

The poem is based on a colloquial and even slangs words which mark child’s attitude and his experience, fear, love and innocence. Use of searing phrases’ stands out as the speaker’s intimate relation with the addressee. He insists him to hurry down to the spot where Minnegan is lying dead or alive (for which he is not sure).

A child’s innocent tone pervades over the poem which explores child psychology, fear, love and a sense of cunnings. The poem is both in close and open form since we can read it as a piece of prose or as a rhythmic verse with rhyme scheme. The simplicity of the verse pattern indicates the simplicity of life lived by the speaker, and the victim’s family. The word ‘shack’ in the title enhances the effect of the rural setting. Moreover, the poet employs the speaker who is very sensitive in disposition and so he, despite the fear to be blamed, does leave a note with news in it and hurries up home. Both of these instances substantiate family ties in rustic culture and a sense of duty.

Philosophically speaking, the poem provides a ground on which human drama unfolds and folds. Born in a shack and possibly dead in a muddy pitfall, the character Minnegan’s whole life oscillates between these two settings which gave a vision of country life, their limited surrounding and limited action.

Cite this Page!

Shrestha, Roma. "A Note Left on Jimmy Leonard's Shack by James Wright: Summary and Critical Analysis." BachelorandMaster, 10 Nov. 2013, bachelorandmaster.com/britishandamericanpoetry/note-left-on-jimmy.html.

Related Topic

James Wright: Biography