John Gery commented in Louisiana Literature:" Thiel's poetry of psychic and cultural artifacts culled from the tiny and the immense, the interior and the distant."Big numbers of Diane Thiel's poems capture the attention on author's German background and on her complicated and painful family relationships; through the poetry she attempts to illustrate and describe her childhood traumas, which seem to be bothering and painful throughout long period of time. Thiel's poems seem to be very personal and intimate; however, while reading, one can get a mood that author tries to share a secret. The poem "Family album" seems to be the combination both of the memories and the pain the person has been hiding inside. In this poem, Thiel represents herself and reveals the secret about her tense family relationships. She tells the reader about her love to look through the old photographs of her relatives; but the thing she likes to do also bring her the pain. She gets a flashback of memories connected with the family picture taking. Although it is obvious that the author experiences pain because of tense relationships with her family, it seems to be that there is something deeper than just bad memories. So, let's examine what was bothering the speaker in the poem.
With the first couple readings of the poem, it becomes obvious that the author has had a long and edgy conflict with one of her family members, perhaps with her father. The fact that she likes to look through the old family pictures means that she cannot forget what has happened in the past, because it was not just a random person, but it was someone close to her, and it was the one who has hurt her most. Along with that, the author notices in the fourth and fifth lines that her favorite pictures were the ones with the unknown people. This statement might imply that the author does not know anything about these people, but she can look at these pictures and see how they are seating and what emotions they have on their faces. She gets the impression that the family picture taking was a big deal for these people, because all of the have gathered together and had the same serious faces on the picture. Although it seems to be amusing for her to see these pictures, but at the same time it also becomes painful for her to bear in mind the time when she was in the same shoes as those people in the picture: gathering in the room to be taken a picture of. She must have had a big stress, because she didn't even want to stand near the person, I assume, she hated so much: " how fiercely I refused even to stand beside him for this picture - how I shrank back from his hand and found the other side." Perhaps, this person might have been cruel either to her or to other family members that is why she did not want to be associated with him and took the other side. However, the author mentions that moment will not matter for anyone else but her, as the time passes by, she is not even sure if anyone besides her remembers this episode and she is sure that after many years there will be someone like her, looking at the pictures of her family and not having an idea who these people are.
Yet, with the next reading of the poem, different and deeper interpretation comes up to mind. The author wants to point out that all these albums were artificial and fake. The pictures were taken just as a part of some tradition -"They knew this was serious business". All these family pictures were the same: people took the pose, and got arranged by their "preferences" and, of course, tried to smile. They knew that they would be pictured for the future generations, as they also knew they had to look happy and joyous on the pictures, even though they were not like that. When the author looks through the pictures of those people she doesn't know, she doesn't wonder about what family issues they had; she tries to think those were the perfect family and never had any issues for the reason that they were smiling. However, she knows a secret about her family picture: they were smiling at the picture, but at least one person was not happy about it. That situation makes her feel more insecure about her family picture as it seems she understands that no one even cares and no one will care about the story of this picture, for the reason that only the result-a good photograph was important. Families took the pictures only for the sake of ritual, because they knew they should leave the memories for the others. That is what seems to distress her and makes her feel desperate, because if her family picture was one big lie- the old pictures could be the same.
The tone in the poem can be described as sad and regretful. Firstly, the author does not seem to have sad tone. While she is describing her love to the family albums, she seems to sound interested and more or less happy about what she is saying. However, it seems to be changing later- she starts to think about her family picture: her tone becomes more sad and pessimistic, even tormenting. It feels that she suffers these memories. The tone continues to remain pessimistic, but in addition it starts to be more desperate when she realizes the fact her family will be happy on the picture forever, when it was completely opposite in the real life.
Author does not use much of the literary features in the poem. In the second line she uses simile - "â€¦faces set like stone" It can be interpreted in two different ways- either their faces were so serious and emotionless or she could mean that the faces are on the paper forever, like they are carved in the stone. The other literary feature used in the poem is the metonymy-" forever smiling there - our mouths all teeth." With the use of it, author wants to say that they will be smiling widely and cheerfully.
The poem of Diane Thiel "Family Album" is a complicated poem. The author tries to show her mixed emotions with the use of figurative language and the tone. One can see that she feels sad and depressed about the picture, but at the same time she realizes that she should not be very upset, because no one will care about this situation anyway, as no one will ever find out about what was going on the day the picture was taken. Summarizing all the facts in the poem, author illustrates her pain and emotions in the poem.