Bistro Styx by Rita Dove: Summary | Major English Class 11

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Bistro Styx by Rita Dove: Summary | Major English Class 11
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Bistro Styx by Rita Dove: Summary | Major English Class 11


The Bistro Styx by Rita Dove


GLOSSARY

gauntness (n): extreme leanness or boniness

mole (n): spy, secret agent

parquet (n): a floor composed of short strips or blocks of wood forming a pattern

rebuff (n): an abrupt or ungracious refusal or rejection

spookily (adv.): in a way that seems strange because it cannot be explained

wary (adj.): cautious, careful


ABOUT THE POEM

The Bistro Styx by Rita Dove 

Rita Dove, in the poem "The Bistro Styx," uses the Greek mythology of Demeter and Persephone in order to depict the troubled relationship between mother and daughter. To mix up both myth and the context of the poem, the poem is about modern Demeter (the mother), who, in her search, discovers modern Persephone (the daughter) in the underworld of modern Paris, abducted by the Hades of modern civilization.


MAIN SUMMARY

The Bistro Styx by Rita Dove 

The poem "The Bistro Styx" was composed by African-American poet Rita Dove. Here in this poem, the poet has made use of Greek mythology about the story of Demeter (mother) and Persephone (daughter) in order to depict the troubled relationship between mother and daughter. The mother finds her modern daughter in the underworld of modern Paris, abducted by modern civilization. It develops the ideas of maturity growing up and mother-daughter relationships through the allusion to Persephone and Demeter.

This poem begins with the narration of a mother. She is waiting for her daughter. Here, in the mother's description of her daughter as well as in the interactions between mother and daughter, the readers come to know about the troubled relationship between them due to their communication gap. The readers can see the artificiality in the daughter's dressing sense and accent (formal language). The daughter was wearing a brown skirt, which symbolises the death of human emotion and sensitivity. The daughter becomes more formal towards her mother than affectionate. Formality has replaced humanity's declining emotional capacity.

The daughter works as a model for an artist who has a studio that has futuristic paintings. The daughter tries to prove the importance of her life in the city by referring to the love of tourists and Parisians. The context becomes ironic because of the transience of the tourist and the love of Paris.

The central theme of the poem is the act of eating and drinking in a restaurant. The daughter likes drinking and eating more than talking to her mother. The way it focuses on drinking and eating gives the reader a clue that modern Persephone is not going to be fully restored (saved). According to ancient Greek myth, it was eating some seeds of the pomegranate that was one of the reasons for Persephone's failure to fully restore herself to the world of living beings. Eating pomegranate seeds makes Persephone half alive and half dead.

Similarly, the variety of dishes in the poem, which the daughter orders, can be compared to pomegranate seeds. Hence, this modern Persephone will remain in the underworld forever, along with Hades. Perhaps this is the reason why the mother realises that, at the end of the poem, she has lost her daughter forever.

Here in this poem, another mythological allusion is the river of forgetfulness, Styx. According to the myths, if a dead creature crosses the boundary between the world and the dead world and drinks the water of the river Styx, then it forgets everything about its previous birth as well as its life. The daughter's drinking wine looks like Styx's dead drinking water. The daughter has forgotten her relationship, village life, tradition, and rural values.

The mother's pain is losing her child in the chaotic world, even though she wants to bring her back home (previously), but she can't because it's too late. Her daughter seems completely ruined because she has eaten pomegranate seeds, which means she is a dead person, and she has drunk water from the Styx River, which means she has forgotten her mother and her earlier life. The daughter, on the other hand, thinks that in the name of career, job, opportunity, modernity, and fashion, she has to give up her old attitude, old values, and tradition. She also wants to be with mom, but she can't because she needs to compete in this modern world to maintain and keep her standards up to date. She is attracted by modern facilities and opportunities.

This poem explores postmodern society in a mythological context. This type of reality is also known as mythopoeic reality. Modern daughters are not being abducted by Hades, but in the name of career, job, and personality, they are abducted themselves. The ancient Persephone was always urging her to go back to her mother, but this modern Persephone has voluntarily chosen to be a victim of modern Hades.


DETAILED SUMMARY

The Bistro Styx by Rita Dove

The mother has reached the city in search of her daughter. She meets her at an art studio where the daughter seems to work as a model. "She was thinner, with a mannered (deliberately made appearance) gauntness (thinness)"! The first line sets the tone of the poem; the mother is apparently dissatisfied with the mannerisms and the thinness (what they call slimming) of her daughter. She paused inside the double glass doors to survey the room. The mother wondered at the behaviour of the daughter, who did not respond properly to her mother! The mother notices how much her daughter has changed, not only in her dress but also in her manners and culture. Her speech was even more artificial: "Sorry, I'm late,” she said without being actually late! The mother followed her to where she sat, and then she kissed her. “Then I leaned back to peruse (read carefully) my blighted (destroyed or degraded) child, this wary aristocratic mole." The mother finds that her daughter was sacrificed to the Hades of this city. She then gathered the courage to ask her, "How's business?" and also "hazarded a motherly smile to keep from crying out." By this time, the mother was almost bursting into tears over the shock and shame of seeing how her dear daughter was behaving with her. The mother asked whether she was satisfied to “conduct your life as a clichΓ©... an anachronism... the artist's demimonde?” The daughter said, "Tourists love us!" and added that they are Parisians. Then she blushed and added that they “are amused, though not without a certain admiration." It means that she thinks that her achievement is that roaming “tourists' "love" her, though they are amused (find her funny), she admits.

The daughter ordered a costly dish of beef, served in elegant manners. The description of the dish is also ironic. The mother could not help getting a little annoyed about her daughter saying that she was in the city only to be admired by 'tourists'. The daughter told her that she was satisfied to work as a nude (naked) model for the artist to paint nude pictures. The artist painted a new kind of art—a scenario of appalling wrecks and bodies being chewed. When the mother expresses her wish to accompany her to the studio to see what it all is like, she diverts the talk into artistic jargon that the mother probably doesn't understand. She talks about the artist, what kind of clothes he puts on, and what kind of clothes she puts on. The talk is all irrelevant and senseless." She paused and had the grace to drop her eyes," for she was looking up until now. "She did look ravishing." As she was eating, she wiped her lips, and a lipstick ghost' was seen on the tissue paper. The girl looks very thoughtful for some time and then again talks about the artist, her employer. She says she has to plead with him to make him eat, for he seems to be too interested in his work. The girl implies that she is in love with the artist, but we can also see that he doesn't care for her. The next course of the meal at the restaurant arrives, and the girl eats in her typical manners. The mother thinks over the food and fruits in rather emotive terms; she talks about how the'sun poured down out of the south'.

The mother repeats the question of whether her daughter is happy; she would also be happy if her child was. But the girl replied in an off-hand manner, "What? You know, Mother"—as if she did not understand the sentence. Then she bit into a fig and continued, “One really should try the fruit here." She doesn't reply to her mother's question about whether she is happy. The mother says, “I've lost her; I thought, and I called for the bill.”.

She pays the money for what the daughter demanded, though she didn't behave as if she were her mother, not even as if she knew her properly! The girl does call her mother once, but still, her manners are shocking to the mother, if not to us. The poem exposes the meanness of the imitated high culture by making us look at a girl from the viewpoint of a loving mother who is refused by her daughter. If the ancient Persephone was always urging her to go back to her mother again, this modern daughter has willingly fallen victim to the underworld.


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QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS OF BISTRO STYX BY RITA DOVE


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