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Introduction & Overview of The Exhibit by Lisel Mueller

This Study Guide consists of approximately 22 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Exhibit.
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The Exhibit Summary & Study Guide Description

The Exhibit Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains For Further Study on The Exhibit by Lisel Mueller.

"The Exhibit" (contained in Lisel Mueller's collection Second Language [1986]) blends history and mythology to express the lingering grief and denial that still haunt an elderly man who survived being a prisoner of war. Using the unicorn metaphor, the poet shows how the horrible public event of world war has a lasting detrimental effect on private life and how our present lives are determined and shaped by the past. Mueller often writes autobiographical poems which include members of her family, and "The Exhibit" is about an uncle living in East Germany many years after the world wars of the twentieth century. The poem does not specify whether the uncle was a prisoner during the first or second world war, but his age could well place him in WWI. We know, however, that Lisel Mueller's own life was directly affected by WWII and that many of her poems stem from the events of the Holocaust. Regardless of which world war is the reference here, the meaning is the same—war takes its toll not only on the body, but on the mind, leaving decades of appalling memories for survivors and often causing them to turn to imagination and myth for comfort.

"The Exhibit" implies the atrocities of war without ever mentioning particular acts. Mueller is able to convey the horrors of conflict essentially by talking about its opposite. As a symbol of both strength and gentleness, the unicorn exemplifies the world as it should be. By highlighting the mythical creature's virtuous behavior and its undeniable purity, the poet actually signifies everything that the real world is not.

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This section contains 266 words
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Poetry for Students
The Exhibit from Poetry for Students. ©2005-2006 Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation. All rights reserved.