Technology Versus Nature:
The Struggle for Mankind
In "Traveling through the Dark"
By William Stafford
8 September 2002
English 4 AP
William Staffordís "Traveling through the Dark" may describe a common event, but the tacit meaning of the poem reduces the subjects to mere symbols. "Traveling through the Dark" contains a theme that shows that technology and mankind are killing off nature. The unborn fawn in the second stanza and the car in the third stanza are just two of several symbols that Stafford used to reinforce the theme of the poem. In addition to the symbols, "Traveling through the Dark" contains vibrant images that accent the thought of technology pressing man to repulse Mother Nature and turn to the new science of technology. The very setting of Staffordís poem adheres to the theme in such a way that technology aids the speaker in throwing the deer into the Wilson River canyon. The arrangement of the poem as a whole compliments the theme of "Traveling trough the Dark"; the four stanzas represent the struggle between technology and nature while the fifth stanza represents the quick decisive act at the end of the altercation.
There are several symbolic elements dispersed throughout "Traveling through the Dark," all within the last three stanzas of the poem. The first symbol encountered is in the third stanza; the unborn fawn represents the future of nature in the world. Although the mother, or nature in present time, has been killed the fawn still waits "alive, still, never to be born" (11). The fawn waits in hope that it will live to breathe air, in the hope that the speaker will save it. However, technology is also competing for the speakerís attention. The first three lines of the fourth stanza make the idling car into a mechanized beast that kills nature. Some details about this mechanized beast are on lines thirteen to fifteen where the car "aimed ahead" (13) its lights, "purred" (14) its steady, idling engine, and emitting "warm exhaust turning red" (15)> The third and final symbol is revealed only in the last stanza. On line seventeen, "I thought hard for us all" exhibits the fact that the speaker is representative of all mankind. The speaker represents mankind coming around the curve in the dark, ignorant of the impending decision; he symbolizes mankind being caught in the struggle between nature and technology.
Nature in the form of a dead doe is portrayed as an object worthy of pity while the mechanical beast of a car causes an unsympathetic, ruthless image to transpire in the readerís mind. Among the various descriptions relating to the dead doe, the most conspicuous is of her being "large in the belly" (8). "The heap, a doe" (6) describes the speakerís first impression of the recent killing. Aside form those two images, the other description of the doe correlates to the sense of touch; the speaker notices that that the doeís "side was warm" (10) after brushing finger against fur. Stafford describes the car with regards to three of the bodyís five senses. The car is described as having its lights "lowered" (13) or dimmed, casting the scene in shadows. The steady purring emitted from the engine appeals to the speakerís sense of hearing. "Warm exhaust" (16) caresses the speaker; it stimulates the speakerís sense of touch.
The conflict occurs only because technology exists. It is as if technology has tasted blood, and like a crazed beast wants only more blood, the blood of Mother Nature. It was a car the killed the pregnant doe in the first place. The reason the speaker found the doe while "traveling through the dark" (1) was the carís headlights. The car, which represented technology, exposed nature as it exists in the present: dead by the side of the road, killed by a car. However, Mother Nature had an ace up her sleeve in the form of an unborn fawn, which the speaker had but to deliver instead of discarding the dead heap to allow nature to continue its course. There is a type of tension as the speaker decides between nature and technology. The speaker "could hear the wilderness listen" (16); all eyes were watching the decision maker.
All eyes watch as the quarrel between technology and nature extends even to the format of the poem. The first four stanzas in the poem each represent an endeavor by either nature or technology to sway mankind to its side. Nature takes its turn first; the first stanza describes a scene in which nature is the main subject. The second stanza aids technology as the nature-representing deer is discovered dead "by the glow of the tail-light" (5). The third stanza revives the possibility of nature prevailing over technology by introducing the unexpected fact that the doe was pregnant. Technology is indisputably the driving force behind the fourth stanza with three-quarters of it dedicated to describing the speakerís car. The fifth stanza is the ending moment of the dispute. The sudden chance from four-line stanzas to a two-line stanza contributes to the abrupt feeling when technology overwhelms nature in the struggle for domination over mankind.
William Stafford uses different techniques to convey the theme of technology gaining control over mankind and turning against nature in his poem "Traveling through the dark." Among the strategies used, symbolism is definitely the most significant and most obvious. However, the form or structure of the poem along with vivid imagery and the setting support the theme very well and compliment the strong use of symbols. Each element has its own purpose and each presents itself best in different parts of the poem. William Staffordís "Traveling through the Dark" describes the rise in importance of technology and the fall of nature in society.