Driving Lessons by Neal Bowers emphasizes on the significance of the background for each person. According to Bowers, family is where we start our way and the beginning determines much in our life.
The poem itself is structured by one popular metaphor – life is a road. Thus, following the road one tries his best to reach the destination fast, just like in our life we aspire to reach our goal, however we are not always successful:
My father clenching with the grinding gears,
Finally giving up and leaving my mother
To buck and plunge with me and say,
Repeatedly, Once more. Try just once more. (1.5).
The metaphor clenching with the grinding gears reflects all the effort and despair of a person, who can not cope with troubles he faces on his way. It also suggests some impatience, confusion, and desire to get out of the difficult situation quickly.
The relationship of his parents could not help hurting the speaker. The way he describes occasional meeting of his parents – as if he did not care, with much irony – only gives a reader even bigger feeling of the speaker’s frustration:
It was a scene to break your heart
Or make you laugh—those wailing kids,
A woman walking briskly with a suitcase
The slow car following like a faithful dog. (2.6).
The speaker is neither liberated nor confident by his past. He says he speculates much about how it would have been, had his parents managed being a happy family. He thinks it might have altered his life and he can not get rid of the past haunting his mind:
But however fast I squeal away,
The shaggy past keeps loping behind,
Sniffing every turn. (5.4).
The reader feels that the road for the speaker is no less bumpy that the one for his parents. Even the very title of the poem is symbolic, for it refers to the mistakes we make when trying to master any new activity. It says our life is just like driving lessons, where we should learn from our mistakes and be ready to right the wrongs.
The failed relationships of his parents had a great impact on the speaker and he is still influenced much by them. Perhaps, the speaker’s father, having grown even more reckless and desperate with age, puts much pressure on his son. He wants his son not to repeat his mistakes, to succeed in life, and blames his wife for leaving:
He wants to be just like her,
Far away and gone forever, wants
Me to press down on the gas… (5.1).
However, all the speaker wants is to leave this all behind, to make a break through to feel free from his past. Coming to the end of the poem, we see that the perspectives of the speaker are limited by his background, which is reflected in the lines:
When I stop in the weedy parking lot,
The failed stores of the old mall
Make a dark wall straight ahead… (6.1).
The final line, to steer my way across this emptiness, contributes to the brighter manifestation of the speaker’s frustration.
To sum up, the metaphor life is a road, which underlies the whole poem, is a way to convey the message about our life being a challenge, where, as long as we have little experience, we are likely to get into trouble. That is why it is necessary to think twice before making a decision, as it is not only our lives that it can effect. What is more, we need to learn not to give up and look for the way out.
The whole composition of the poem with one structural metaphor, and numerous bright comparisons, epithets and metaphors – car being a faithful dog (2.9), wailing kids (2.7), the busy world that swallowed (3.4) the speaker’s mother up, etc – provide captivating and thought-provoking reading.
1. Bowers, Neal. Driving Lessons. Theme for English B. 8 May 2009. http://www.shilohsaints.org/Courses/Sutterfield/PoemsforResponsePaper_000.htm