Doing it Wrong by Carol Parsons is a twenty-four line poem that follows a regular pattern of repetition and narrative action. Parsons has not chosen to give this piece a specific rhyme scheme, instead, as the characters repeat an interaction, the phrase, “You did it wrong,” is inserted throughout the poem. “Doing it Wrong” can be separated into six sets of four lines, or quatrains. Each of these quatrains ends with the refrain, “You did it wrong,” and is consistent in relative line length and rhythm.
Throughout this piece the poet’s tone remains playful and lighthearted. This poem does not take itself too seriously, instead it acts as a familial reminiscence. The frustrated speaker retells moments from her childhood that might connect with a reader who has experienced something similar or at least been in a situation where one is constantly barraged by another’s annoyance.
As stated previously, each stanza of this poem follows a repeating narrative. That is, until the final stanza. This change in the speaker’s situation, and shift in her personality, acts as a fitting conclusion to a poem that seems to build in tension as it is read. From the first stanza on the speaker’s frustration with her situation increases, until she can finally take no more. You can read the full poem here.
Summary of Doing it Wrong
“Doing it Wrong” by Carol Parsons describes the relationship between a brother and sister and the building frustrations between the two.
The poem begins with the first of many situations that the young, childish, speaker finds herself in with her brother. She is cooking breakfast, a simple dish of scrambled eggs, when her brother comes into the room and tells her that she is doing it wrong. He jabs at her with this insult that has no basis, something he will do a number of times before the poem ends.
The next situation she finds herself in is outside building a house for snails. Her brother wrecks it, and then blames it on her while once more repeating the poem’s refrain. This situation continues to repeat itself throughout the piece. He tells her she incorrectly washes dishes, jumps rope and stains a bench. In the final set of four lines the speaker plans her revenge. She will sneak into her brother’s room and while he is sleeping and jump out at him screaming, “You did it wrong.”
Analysis of Doing it Wrong
The poem begins with the speaker introducing the first of a common narrative in her life. “Doing it Wrong” is told from a first person perspective, using the pronouns, “I” and “me,” meaning that the reader is only given the speaker’s emotions and thoughts. Fittingly, the first short story begins in the “morning” when the speaker is making breakfast. The reader enters into this piece at a logical place. One will then travel through the day with the speaker as she tells of her growing irritation.
While she is making breakfast a second character is introduced to the story, her brother. He has come into the room and over to where she is cooking. The speaker is not making anything overly complicated or difficult, only “scrambled eggs.” He looks at what she has done and swiftly judges that she has done “it wrong.” He makes no further comments and, presumably, leaves the room.
The speaker is then left with her unfinished breakfast and mostly likely, her first sting of irritation in regards to the behaviour of her brother. The brother does not give any reasons why he thinks the speaker is cooking incorrectly, he is just there to put her down. He is looking for any way to frustrate and annoy her.
The second set of lines begins with a clue as to the age of the speaker and her brother. Following breakfast she goes outside to make “a snail house.” Once again, this is not something that is overtly complicated or difficult to complete. It is the game of a child, someone who is, presumably, around ten years old. This fact casts all the previous, and following, information in a different light. These are not mature adults who continue to feud, but two children, one of whom is quite petulant, picking on the another.
As the speaker is making her “snail house” her brother comes along again. He walks up to her, and just like before, takes a quick glance at what she has done and dismisses her. The poet repeats the refrain that she established in the first stanza, “You did it wrong.”
The narrative continues in this same pattern in the next quatrain. The speaker is on to another simple task, washing dishes. It is unclear what time of day it is, but mostly like sometime around lunch. She is doing her best to help out when once again her brother comes along to put her down.
He has just finished his meal and brings his dishes into the kitchen. With no regard for what she is doing, he tosses them into the sink and repeats the poem’s refrain, “You did it wrong.” It is important to note at this point in the poem that it is nearly impossible to do any of these things wrong. One either washes dishes, or not. There is not that much grey area between the two. This fact only reinforces the previous description of his petulance. He is mean without reason.
In the following set of lines the speaker has left her home, perhaps gone out into the yard to play. She is jumping rope, another straight forward action, when the narrative resumes itself. Her frustrating brother comes along and throws her “off [her] seventh count.” As he has previously, he has taken an action to mess up what she is doing.
He considers these forced mistakes as evidence that his sister is incapable of the task. He tells her again that she is doing “it wrong.”
In the second to last short story the speaker is once more doing something that she hopes will be helpful. She is outside staining “a garden bench.” She is fixing it up with a bucket of stain next to her.
Her brother comes up to her and knocks her stain “onto the ground” spilling it everywhere. By now the reader certainly should not be surprised that he says, “You did it wrong.” The speaker has reached her breaking point and decides she will no longer tolerate her brother’s behaviour.
The poem concludes with another quatrain which tells of the speaker’s revenge. She decides to treat her bother the same way she has been treated by planning to sneak into his room while he is asleep.
The speaker is describing something she will do in the future and it is unclear whether or not she actually takes this action. Either way, her plan is to wait until he is asleep, and from her hiding spot in his room jump out at him and scream the poem’s refrain, “You did it wrong!”