‘The Cockroach’ by Kevin Halligan is a poem about reflection on life through watching the movement of a cockroach. Through the use of structure, detailed description of cockroach as an extended metaphor of the persona, the theme of confusion and realization of life is well conveyed. Halligan describes a frantic movement of the cockroach throughout the poem. The title foreshadows and reveals that the poem is about a small and trifle insect- a cockroach. However, the poem opens with the exaggeration of it ‘a giant cockroach’. This highlights that he is observing it very closely feeling as if it is a ‘giant’. The word ‘giant’ also conveys that it is not only an insect but also a device to reflect on life giving it great importance with the repetition of word ‘cockroach’ in the title and first line. The movement of the cockroach is closely described. When all seems well, the cockroach is suddenly assailed by a confusion , stopping in its track unable to make its life. The cockroach moves about in fits and starts with no sense of direction.
Here a question that arises in the mind of the reader is ‘what is the poet doing, inspecting the cockroach so closely?’ In the insects aimlessness the poet sees a metaphor of his own life. The cockroach is a metaphor for the narrator or even mankind. It has no sense of purpose and it is led astray at every turn in its life. It finds it difficult to resist temptation, and chases mirages. The narrator says that he sees himself mirrored in the cockroach. The cockroach seems innocent enough when it sets on its journey. But instead of following the straight and narrow path, it is tempted to wander off to go around the rusty table leg. In between it stops to scratch himself luxuriously. The open shelf tempts it but at the threshold it is assailed by confusion much like human beings are. This is what human beings go through at every turn in their lives. The cockroach is a metaphor for the narrator and the human race.