A piano is a self-operating machine that works like a human and has its own sense of pride and mind. John Updike depends on his words and phrases to communicate his message and ideas in the “Player Piano”.
By using figurative language, it allows Updike to express his ideas and comprehend his message successfully through the poem. Updike utilizes great diction, symbolism, personification, assonance and consonance terms. These types of figurative language work cohesively to comprehend tone, to support his theme and to reveal his true message. John Updike uses this language to share with the readers the soul, mind, and spirit of a piano by essentially giving life to an unhuman piano. The first two lines of the first stanza presents the assonance that helps the readers grasp an understanding of the poem through sounds.
“My stick fingers click with a snicker, And, chuckling, they knuckle the keys;” (Updike 1-2). In these sentences, there is a repetition of the “ick” sound in the words “stick”, “click” and “snicker”. This repetition when referenced to the piano instrument suggests to the readers a sharp and sudden note on the piano.
The repetition of this sound conveys a mechanical representation that doesn’t really resemble a human being. Instead, it was meant to add more power and force to the piano’s constant sound to show how the piano can have life but still have machine-like perfection. Another sound repetition in line 2 is the harsh “K” in the words “chuckling”, “knuckle” and “keys”.
This harsh sound in these words shows an abrupt action of a note on the piano keys. The final consonance shown in the poem is on line 2-3. There is a mild “S” in the words “keys”, “steel” and “feelers”. This smooth and light “s” sound gives off a pleasant tone and a sweet harmonization coming from the piano. These small but significant literary devices give the readers a strong and sharp tone of the sound and intensify the feeling that the piano is alive and spirited. In “Player Piano”, there are certain words that the author uses to stress the meaning and to emphasize symbols throughout the poem. During the first stanza, the word “flicker” on line 3 relates to the central theme of the piano having life.
This word is a symbol of the poem because the meaning of flicker can be a flame of fire. The symbol of fire is a form of light similar to life but pertaining to the piano there is another meaning. The light exemplifies a piano’s soft keys and just like light can brighten or dim down, the sound of keys can escalate from soft to sharp.
Another symbol detected in this poem is the phrase: “Is broadcast by dint of my din” (Updike 6). The word “din” is a loud racket noise and by the sentence saying “broadcast” makes it seem like the piano’s sound is far away and very loud. The last important word that gives insight to the readers is “never”. The sentence uses an awkward set of words: “But never my numb plunker fumbles” (Updike 11). The meaning of this sentence is stating that the piano will never mess up or play the wrong key. This supports the whole of the poem that the piano is self-playing because if a human was playing the piano then a mistake will occur due to human error.
These identifications are necessary for understanding the meaning of the poem because it all supports the claim that Updike is trying to portray the human intellect and characteristics of a player piano. Lastly, Updike uses personification to give life and soul to the piano itself without a human being in the picture. The first use is: “My paper can caper” (Updike 5) which when referring to the piano means that the sheet notes on the papers can leap or jump like a human child would normally do. Another example of personification in the poem that was mentioned above is “my steel feelers flicker” (Updike 3). The word “flicker” which relates to flame puts the piano in a position of being alive and having a human-like existence.
Updike properly communicates through these components to establish human qualities and features into the piano, emitting life.