“Death of the Ball Turret Gunner”
Randall Jarrell’s use of setting, character and figures of speech in his last in a series of war time poems, is widely disputed. The interpretation of the theme is left for the individual reader to decide. “Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” is a classic example of Jarrell’s style in which he uses the real and tangible B-17 bomber turret gunner of World War II as a symbol and representation of the horrors of war and its victims.
“From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State
And I hunched in its belly til my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to the black flak and nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.” (Roberts, 674-675)
The main character in the poem is an obviously young soldier who is tasked with the unfortunate job of operating the .50 caliber machine guns that were placed in the belly section of United States Air Force B-17 Bombers and utilized to bomb enemy positions during World War II. The first line of the poem demonstrates Jarrell’s desire to imply that the young soldier was drafted into the military by the “State” and fast forwards through time from his mothers caring womb and awakens in the horror of war (Horner, 10). These planes were not very well insulated and the turrets in particular were extremely susceptible to the elements at an altitude of “Six Miles from earth” (Roberts, 674). In these Plexiglas turrets, the soldiers were vulnerable to enemy fighter planes that often attacked from below. In this segment, Jarrell’s use of vulnerability suggests that we are expendable and necessary sacrificial implements of war. How
else would one explain the lack of care and due diligence to protect our lives with Plexiglas from the powerful bullets from enemy aircraft? (Horner, 10)
Jarrell draws on his experience as a World War II fighter navigation instructor to deploy the...