“Stamps” by Bethlyn Madison Webster
This poem is about a woman who goes grocery-shopping with her husband and their baby and who feels judged because she is burying groceries on food-stamps. The woman feels uncomfortable because she thinks the woman has a judgmental face and she wants to see how her “tax dollars” are wasted by this family. Many people feel like they are paying too much taxes and that people who are benefiting from social help do not always deserve that help. This poem expresses this sentiment exactly but from the point of view of the woman who is benefiting from the financial help. She feels like using food stamps is humiliating and she can’t help “hide behind her husband” and carefully watch the woman who obviously looks richer and is buying expensive food. She feels the woman is judging the fact that they bought some chocolate-chips and that is not considered a “bare necessity” but rather a luxury. The theme here should be that one should not judge a book by its cover and that people who need financial help are not necessarily lazy or undeserving but rather good people, who work hard and are humiliated enough by the fact that they have to accept the help for anyone to judge them further.
I think the big lessons to learn from here is that everyone judges everyone. Yes, it is true that the poor woman feel judged by the woman who looks rich but, in reverse, she is being judgmental as well. It is not necessarily true that the woman with the pink nails, buying expensive food is thinking that her taxes are wasted. Maybe she was thinking that the government could offer more help to people in need so that they can afford more than just some cheap cookies, especially when they have a baby to feed. Still, the reality is that some people are poor and need help and cannot make ends meet no matter how hard they try and that doesn’t mean they are bad people.
The author is using comparisons such as “cheerio-mouthed,” and lots of imagery to create the embarrassing grocery-store scene. The readers can feel the embarrassment the woman feels when she is being analyzed and the frustration she feels when she cannot explain herself to the rich woman. You can also see the envy in the poor woman’s heart when she sees the woman’s groceries – the expensive rib-eye steak, the lettuce and the wine, while she is further humiliated by the “rubber-stamp,” the cashier applies on the back of her food stamps. The image of the rubber stamp is very powerful because it feels like a verdict to the woman who has to accept her social position for the time being.
I think the poem is written to create sympathy for the woman who is being poor and judged in the same time but I don’t really feel that sympathy for her. Yes, it is humiliating to have to admit that you are being helped but it is not true that other people necessarily judge you for doing so. Most of the time, when I see a poor person, I feel really bad for them and I wish the government found a way to help them and to make sure that everyone is being treated fairly and no one goes hungry in such rich countries as Canada and the United States are. Surely, no one can expect that people who use welfare or food stamps never crave chocolate and other such “luxuries” and so no one would judge a woman with a baby for buying herself some sweets.
The theme is the main idea of a piece of writing, either prose or poetry. It is the lesson the author is trying to convey, the idea he/she is trying to put into the reader’s minds. In “Stamps,” the theme is related to poverty and the idea that all people are judgmental of others. People should not judge each other or any situation based on how things look because most of the time we are making mistakes when we do that. In “Stamps” a woman and her husband are being humiliated in the grocery store because they have to use food stamps to buy foods and a wealthier woman is watching the transaction. The speaker feels frustrated and wants to explain that both she and her husband work but cannot make ends meet, while the wealthy woman is staring and buying expensive food items. Both women are probably judging each other but neither of them is likely right about whatever conclusion they reached.