What should i call myself

Molina's German ePortfolio

5. An explanation of "What should I call myself?" and reflection

Ingeborg Bachmanns “What should I call myself?” is a powerful poem about the limitations of freedom. The speaker comes from a past with no freedom. He can escape, but he can never forget his past. If he is looking for a new beginning, he has difficulty finding it. Therefore the speaker finds freedom, but he still has no view in life. The speaker asks a final question in the poem, "What should I call myself without being in another language (lines 19-20)." How can the speaker define himself when he is different, but he cannot forget his previous experiences? The speaker cannot forget his past and he needs a new concept to reflect on his growth. Bachmann uses the literary techniques of end rhyme, alliteration, and symbolism as we ponder the speaker's journey.

The structure of the poem can tell us what the speaker's situation is. The poem has the ending rhyme scheme abab for all the stanzas (the first ending word rhymes with the third ending word, and the second ending word rhyming with the fourth ending word). When you hear the poem, the noises sound like they're going in a circle. There is no beginning or end to the verses. Likewise, the speaker has made a lengthy journey. In the beginning of the poem the speaker was “bound,” and he told how he escaped (“Once I was a tree and bound / then ... was free (lines 1-2)”). Although the speaker is free, he can partially return to his past. He says, “My friend today is the maple branches (line 9),” and that's a bit strange. The speaker was a tree when he had no freedom but now he is kind with trees. In other words, the speaker could not leave his past behind at all. In the next stanza, the speaker “deserves an escape (line 14),” and he “wants to escape the arrow of this guilt (line 15).” Again the speaker tries to escape his past completely. When the speaker has more freedom, he says, "Maybe I can recognize myself one day (line 17)," and you know that the speaker likes his freedom. But this freedom is not without difficulty because the speaker must now create a new definition. Therefore the speaker sees the positive and negative aspects of freedom at other times throughout the poem. As the speaker's journey is not a perfect straight line relationship, the words at the end of each line are rhymed several times.

Bachmann also uses alliteration and symbolism to better explain the speaker. In the first stanza, there is alliteration with the words “tree / tied” and “dig / tied up / found.” The speaker uses all of these words when talking about his imprisonment. All of the multiple noises (“b” and “g”) are severe, like the speaker's feelings about freedom. The speaker hates when he does not have freedom, and he wants freedom more than anything. When the subject of freedom get a bit more complicated, the speaker doesn't use alliteration. The speaker also uses various symbols that explain the opinion of freedom for the speaker. The speaker mentions many things with wings: “Bird / wild duck / pigeon” and the seeds of maple branches. All of these things can fly, and they symbolize freedom. Once the speaker escapes, he is releasing "a dirty egg." He's a bird now, and he just escaped, but he has to do something to symbolize his freedom. The egg symbolizes the speaker's past, which he would like to leave behind. The egg is dirty because the speaker's earlier experience was not positive. When the speaker has his freedom, he has "forgotten / where [he] comes from and where [he] is going from (lines 5-6)," and he is a "fleeing deer (line 8) . ” Deer usually just startle and are constantly on the move. Like a deer, the speaker is insecure and has found no purpose in his freedom. All of these symbols explain that the speaker wants freedom, but freedom is not as fulfilling as he believed.

In the poem "What should I call myself?" Bachmann uses the literary techniques of end rhyme, alliteration, and symbolism, and they make the poem more powerful. The speaker sought and found freedom, but freedom had limitations. If the speaker has freedom, he is different because freedom has changed him. Although he's changed, he can never forget his past. Ask the speaker, "What should I call myself ?," because he has a new situation. He is no longer bound and the future has many possibilities. With literary techniques one cannot forget this message.


Completing the final assignment allowed me to synthesize the information that I had learned over the course of the semester. I liked that we were able to choose our own poems to analyze, and I believe that this freedom made the assignment much more enjoyable. I really enjoyed Bachmann’s “How should I call myself ?,” and I was glad that we had the opportunity to read more of her poetry before the end of the semester. I did not have any major issues with this assignment. The most difficult part of the assignment was choosing the German vocabulary words that correctly expressed my intended meaning. Overall, the poem was interesting, and I enjoyed analyzing it.


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