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“After Work” by John Maloney - On the Edge of Abysm

Oct 8, 2019 at Literature Essays

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“After Work” by John Maloney is a touching poem that depicts the world of poverty when workers need to make considerable efforts in order to survive. The author creates a dark atmosphere of a low social class, who works day and night, and it makes the reader plunge into a cruel reality based on human desires to live. Thus, the work defines a meaningless sense of life of people that use the last physical strengths to work hard, despite the fact that they have lost the taste of life while fighting with injustice and despair.


Being on the edge, people continue working in hard conditions, even if their life is like a burden, which drags them to the bottom. In the poem “After Work”, Maloney demonstrates that people have nothing more than a poor existence, which gives them the last hope for future. It seems that they have obeyed the destiny and blindly follow an inescapable situation. The words “They’re heading home with their lights on, dust and wood glue,/ yellow dome lights on their metallic long beds” just prove that a working class is entrapped by their fate (Maloney 1-3). It is evident that nothing will be changed, and they experience similar problems every day without having any rest. In this case, light has a double meaning, as it symbolizes human hopes and darkness, at the same time because the reader can assume that all workers come back home late at night. Moreover, a yellow color of the light also relates to poor living conditions when even a bed is too long to get a needed rest; it is associated with sadness and desperation.

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The author uses a sad tone when he tries to illustrate every single detail of the poem in order to attract the reader’s attention. The narrator claims that the workers do not see the blue sky and perceive reality as a torture due to overtime hours, which, in fact, do not allow them to improve their current situation. The line “as much overtimes as you want, deadline, dotted line, dazed/ through the last few hours, dried primer on their knuckles,/ sawdust calf-high on their jeans, scraped boots” defines the way the main characters work and live (Maloney 3-5). It is obvious that nobody cares about their hellish toil, which destroys them as personalities, bringing down their dignity. Additionally, the author applies such words as “deadline”, “dotted line”, “sawdust”, and “scraped” to portray the level of poverty and injustice, as the period of their work is unlimited. The notion “work” is a precise example of metaphor, which has much in common with an invisible death that gradually destructs human lives. Thus, the work gives main characters an opportunity to survive, but it also leads to death, taking away their life due to unbearable working conditions.

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Eventually, life resembles a game, in which people cannot win, but they are forced to accomplish their work getting neither moral nor material satisfaction. Maloney describes the life of a low social class using an ordinary structure with no rhyme at all. The point is that this simplicity reinforces an effect of despair, as the state of sadness and loneliness overwhelms the souls of every working man. Consequently, the reader focuses on every line and starts feeling sympathy for the main characters from the very beginning of the poem. However, imagery is an integral part of the plot, as it gives one an incredible possibility to feel the way people suffer, including all the difficulties they experience. The author presents all the four senses while describing the consequences of a hard working day when men return home. The reader can see and observe what happens around after the protagonists have finished their work. Besides, such a detailed description helps everyone understand that people do not try to resist the existing instability that merely kills them.

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Daily routine swallows people, making them unable to change their miserable life, which suggests them any free choice. The author indicates: “such a clutter of cans and iced-tea bottles, napkins,/ coffee cups, paper plates on the front seat floor with cords/ and saws, tired above the eyes, back of the beyond, thirsty” (Maloney 7-9). This line allows becoming a substantial part of this class, as it is possible to penetrate human souls, which are full of emptiness and desperation. Moreover, the reader also has an irresistible desire to taste the last water or coffee and becomes as thirsty as all men. It makes everybody realize that their song is the only free choice that encourages them after a long, hard-working shift. Undoubtedly, all of them are proud of their intentions to work even if it seems that they have already given up due to inability to live. Nevertheless, the words “the first song with the belt off, pure breath of being alone/ for now, for now the insight of a full and answerable man” shows that people are still alive inside (Maloney 12-13). Perhaps, “a full and answerable man” is the author’s main metaphor, which refers to the last or an eternal hope of those, who will work every day never altering their lives, despite the fact that they are unsatisfied with solitude that has captured their hearts.


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In conclusion, the poem “After Work” by John Maloney illustrates how people live in poverty and cannot reject the horrible working conditions, as they have no strength to improve the situation. The sense of life is quite visible because a low social class has plunged the reality based on a regular overtime work, which does not allow them to experience contentment. Undoubtedly, all of them come back home after a hard day, but it is understandable that such a horrible kind of work makes them closer to death. Neither the sky nor a pure breath will help people survive, as there is no future ahead of them.

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