Woodchucks by Maxine Kumin

  1. Briefly summarize the work and state the main idea or theme conveyed by the writer. Also, include any minor ideas which are also apparent.

Woodchucks by Maxine Kumin is a poem that mainly focuses on people and their minds and how they justify violence directed to others. Similarly, it’s typically about how easy it is for humans to become evil. Kumin in the poem gives account for a farmer’s attempts to eradicate the infestation of woodchucks in his garden which were devouring and consequently caused him to shoot them. The farmer justifies his acts in the third stanza of the poem that states “the food from our mouths” to illustrate it is moral for him to shoot them since they were stealing from him.  Notably, he blames the woodchucks for provoking his overt brutality.

  1. Place the work within its historical, social and political context and explain how the work is/is not indicative of the periods/time. Also, include several of the scientific/political/social/historical events that would have influenced the writer or given shape to a particular consciousness.

The second part of Woodchucks focuses on the relation of the poem to the Holocaust of Nazi where Jews got gassed in gas chambers to death. In the poem, lines 35 and 36, states “if only all the woodchucks agreed upon dying through the initial attempt of gassing the farmer gassing them using cyanide they would die the Nazi way quietly” (Kunim,1982 ). The statement displays the relationship between the poem and Nazi killings by highly ranked officials who shot at innocent civilians without reasons. The political, social and historical aspects of the poetry get displayed under this context, and particularly the social element gets displayed when Kunim describes how the farmers urge to kill only arose after getting provoked. The discussions of all these concepts within the poem show how the writer got influenced to raise the consciousness of the human nature to commit evil deeds.

  1. Be familiar enough with the writer’s life to discuss particular biographical experiences that helped shape and/or serve as material in work itself. Give the date(s) of writing and publication.

Maxine Kunim is a Jewish who attended Catholic School, and when she grew up, she ended up purchasing a farm. The relation between the Jews, Holocaust, and farm vividly get displayed showing that Kunim’s real-life biological experiences contributed to some extent in the development of the poem which was first written in 1972 and later on published in 1982.

  1. Identify the literary tradition/ the literary school of thought in which the work gets placed. Critically discuss how the work does/does not fit/conform to the literary period

The poem employed the literary school of thought from Hitler, the Jews, and the Holocaust during the Second World War. The first evidence that merges the literary school of thought is the fact that Hitler, an inhuman German leader during the Second World War, eliminated Jews through gassing them with cyanide the same gas which got used in the initial attempt to kill the woodchucks in the poem. Another proof focuses on the aftermath of killing the woodchucks which gave the farmer enjoyment from shooting similar to Hitler’s satisfaction when gassing the Jews. Lastly, comparing the gassing in Nazi and the farmer displayed that gassing was a way of killing viewed as smooth, quiet and impersonal means of killing.

  1. Discuss the literary quality and value of the work by analyzing the writer’s structure and style; use of language and literacy conventions (i.e., imagery, symbol, metaphor, simile, personification, alliteration, assonance, oxymoron, wordplay, and pun) value as literature and a work of art.

The use of metaphor is displayed when Kunim compares Woodchucks to the Jews in Nazi during the Holocaust when she said, “If the woodchucks agreed upon dying due to getting masked they would die the Nazi way” (Kunim, 1982). Imagery gets illuminated when Kunim describes how the mother of the woodchuck lifelessly to the ground. “The mother of the woodchuck fell and got hooked on an early Swiss chard leaf” (Kunim, 1982).

  1. Identify/discuss the writer’s purpose for writing and identifying the audience for whom the writer is writing. Identify the writer’s tone/attitude towards his subject audience.

Maxine elaborates that the reason behind her writing Woodchucks poem is one to bring consciousness to the corruption of people considered as peaceful and the Nazi Holocaust. The audience of the poem is people in general who either faced the consequences of the Holocaust or those who easily get provoked to perform wrongful deeds to their fellow humans. Therefore the tone of the poem is initially non-violent due to the gassing of the rodents and eventually shifts to an aggressive tone where the farmer decides to kill the woodchucks by shooting them.

  1. Make use of secondary sources and discuss the critical reception of the work.

The fact that using the metaphor of failed attempt to eradicate the woodchucks by the gardener shows that despite what takes place within the society there will always be the presence of undesired things and people who are either innocent or engaged in minor offenses who face the wrath of human’s potential to turn evil (Ziegler, 2018). Such undesirables in the case of the poem are the woodchucks while concerning the Nazi Holocaust are the Jews.

  1. React to the work by supporting your evaluation of it and state what if anything can get learned from the study

Kunim is primarily reacting to the violent side of humanistic nature comparing it to the mass killing through gassing of the Jews in Nazi by Hitler. However, the speaker lacks connection to the woodchucks’ killings only that she relates it to the Nazi Holocaust.  Also, the tonal variation especially when the killings by shooting by the farmer, an exciting tone arose which contradicts with the sadness such deeds enforce. Kunim also focused more on how the mother of the woodchucks died rather than feeling remorse of how the deaths of the woodchucks took place. However much the writer faces such critiques it is important to note that she manages to bring about consciousness to ignored issues such as human’s potential to turn evil and justifications of evil deeds to cause other people harm.

  1. Explain how the writer’s nationality and sense of place (native country) influence the setting, place and time as integral elements of her/his work. Be specific. Use examples and illustrations from the writer’s work.

The fact that the writer is a Jew influence who later on after she grew up bought a farm where she went to live contribute to the setting, place and time of her writing the Woodchucks poem which attempted to use her nationality and her personal experience to influence her works.

  1. Surmise what you think the writer is saying about the art of writing and what she attempts to achieve using this work. State what you interpret as the writer’s vision.

Maxine’s writing is metaphorical as it attempts to elaborate on the human potential of being evil through causing harm to others. She, therefore, aims to bring to light these concepts besides the Holocaust in Nazi by Hitler through her writing.


Ziegler, A. (2018). Literary Analysis of “Woodchucks” by Maxine Kumin – Aaron R. Ziegler [Zen van Nihil] – Medium. Retrieved from https://medium.com/@zen.van.nihil/literary-analysis-of-woodchucks-by-maxine-kumin-39fa2f4739

Kumin, M. (1982). Woodchucks.